April 21, 2005

About the helo kill in Iraq

The appalling cruelty of the Iraqi guerrillas who finished off a Bulgarian survivor with a broken leg after his helicopter was shot down should be self-evident.

What is less evident so far is the mechanism of the helo kill, and what the helicopter's actual mission might have been. Officials have said it was a rocket-propelled grenade, not a SAM, which brought the Mi-8 down between Tikrit and Baghdad. It was flying low if that was the case, almost certainly under 100m... this would, however, be confirmed by the fact the killers were able to quickly get to the crash scene... a SAM kill would likely have impacted several kilometres away, not within easy jogging distance. That RPG would almost certainly have had to be fired from under 300m slant range, probably much less, and probably either from directly in front or directly behind, to eliminate lead... a helicopter flying at any kind of speed perpendicular to the line of sight is a nearly-impossible shot with this weapon, even at close range... it suggests that this was either a very regular overflight route, or the ambush location was planned in advance. More than one RPG may have been fired, as well.

As to the six American soldiers-for-hire that were being carried, along with the three Bulgarians and two Fijian "helicopter security guards" (door gunners?), they have been described as providing security to U.S. diplomats (in Tikrit?) when they were killed. It's important to remember that the last time four employees of the same merc company, Blackwater, were killed in Fallujah, they were first described as accompanying a food convoy into that city. It was only determined later that they were actually armed escorts for a convoy of kitchen equipment headed for an American military dining hall... a military logistical function that would have made them fair targets by the standard laws of war. So there's certainly reason to doubt the whole truth is being told in this case, as well.

In this case, the dead men have been described as working for the American State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which would sound on its face like it was a straight-up embassy protection outfit. It should be noted, however, that another BDS function is to oversee the bounty program for foreign enemies (the $25 million price on Osama bin Laden's head, etc.), including paying off the tipsters. I could certainly see a low-level flight to Tikrit on that kind of business.

UPDATE: The Bulgarian spokesperson appears to have said the helo was headed to Tikrit to pick up or drop off "personnel involved in reconstruction in Iraq," because travelling by road was less safe.

Posted by BruceR at 09:41 PM

Submarine purchasing investigation reports

A fairly balanced Commons defence committee report on the 1990s naval submarine purchase. The report makes a good job of making clear that it was either these subs, or nothing... there was never a realistic third alternative (the Australian navy paid $1 billion per for their last subs, whereas Canada obtained four refurbished boats for $750 million), and it castigates the PM specifically for letting the ministerial recommendation, once it was duly arrived at, basically sit on his desk for four years. Herein lies the problem, in microcosm.

The argument was these, or nothing. I think you can make the argument easily that subs are useful enough for national maritime sovereignty purposes alone to justify that kind of expense, and I'm baffled that anyone who seriously looks at the issue could think otherwise. But no one can argue that the four-year dither on this issue helped anybody or anything.

Posted by BruceR at 12:42 PM