Bellingcat

Monday, 16 September 2013

Who Was Responsible For The August 21st Attack?

In light of today's report from the UN confirming the use of sarin in the August 21st attacks in Damascus, I thought I'd take a look at the open source evidence of who is responsible.  I'll be looking at evidence that's freely available for anyone to examine, rather than what German spy boats may or may not of heard, or intelligence reports that tell us they have evidence, but don't actually show the evidence.  As always, evidence does not automatically equal proof, so it's up to you to decide if this information proves one side or the other was responsible.

Two munitions have been linked to the attack, the M14 140mm artillery rocket, and a munition I've previously referred to as the UMLACA (Unidentified Munition Linked to Alleged Chemical Attacks).

M14 140mm artillery rocket
UMLACA
The UN inspectors have now linked both munitions to the chemical attacks, so the question is, who used them?  In the 18 months I've been studying the arms and munitions in the conflict I have never seen either type of munition used by the opposition. The opposition has rocket artillery, for example the 107mm Type-63 multiple rocket launcher and the Croatian 128mm RAK-12, but I've never seen any sign of the 140mm systems (such as the BM-14) that would be used to launch the M14 artillery rocket.  More details on the M14, and it's origins, are in this video from RUSI


As with the M14, there's no evidence the Syrian opposition has access to, or have used, the UMLACA.
Since January 2013, a number of photographs and videos of these munitions have been published by opposition activists, who have consistently claimed these were fired by government forces.  The first video, posted from Daraya, Damascus on January 4th 2013, doesn't even link the munition to a chemical attack, and through the last 3 weeks of investigations on the munition, I've established there are at least two types of this munition; the type linked to the August 21st attack and other alleged chemical attacks, and a high explosive type, which I examine in this post.

It's important to note that the UMLACA has also been recorded at the scene of at least one other chemical attack, including one in Adra, Damascus, on August 5th, which I detail here.  Another video, from June 11th, also filmed in Adra, shows the remains of an UMLACA that's described as a "chemical rocket", although it's not specified which alleged chemical attack it was linked to.  Considering the new information presented in today's UN report, it seems worth re-examining some of the earlier allegations of chemical attacks in Syria.

One thing that must be stressed, is that the UMLACA is a munition that's never been seen in any other conflict, and it's origins are somewhat of a mystery.  This has led some people to claim the munition could have been constructed by the opposition, and one popular video shows what's claimed to be a chemical munition being used by the opposition, with some even claimed it's the UMLACA, even though it's clearly a totally different design


The above video is what's known as a "Hell Cannon", a popular mortar type weapon used by the Syrian opposition.  I've gone into more details about the Hell Cannon, and why it's not a chemical weapon, as some people have claimed, here, but there is one other aspect of it I want to explore in relation to the UMLACAs.
As I've said before, some people have claimed the UMLACA could be a DIY munition manufactured by the opposition, but by examining the construction of both the Hell Cannon and the UMLACA I think it's clear there's a very significant difference in the quality and complexity of construction.

When the Hell Cannon first appeared in May 2013, it was accompanied by a release of a promotional video showing the construction of the weapon, shown below


In this video we can see the most complex part of the system is the launching platform, with the munition itself being not much more than a gas cylinder welded onto a metal pole, with fins added.  The gas cylinder warhead is then filled with fertilizer based explosive, and fitted with a simple impact fuze.  The launching platform is pretty simple, just a mortar tube with the rest of the construction desgined to give it stability.  The following video, published on August 5th, shows ammunition for the Hell Cannon being produced


The design has had a slight improvement, with extendable tail fins added, and large numbers of the munitions being produced.  If these were all chemical weapons then it's pretty clear someone would have noticed by now, and this really demonstrates how basic the design of these munitions are, something that's reflected in pretty much all the munitions produced by the opposition.

Over the past three weeks I've been collecting detailed photographs of the UMLACA, trying to make sense of how it's put together, and how it works.  What's become clear is the UMLACA is far much more than just a barrel on a rocket.  Human Rights Watch's report on August 21st included a diagram of the UMLACA I helped produce, shown below


There's a lot of details that point to this being more sophisticated that the gas cylinders on a stick, for example, way in which the warhead appears to be designed to come apart.  There's clues to this in the various videos and photographs of the remains of the munition.  The following images are taken from 4 different UMLACAs, showing the remains of the outer shell of the warhead


You'll note that they've consistently split in exactly the same way, right down the length of the warhead, apparently pre-weakened to break open that way.  Another example is the rocket itself, as the below video of the high explosive variant of the UMLACA demonstrates, the housing for the rocket, which the tail fins are attached to, has been manufactured separately, and tightly fitted over the rocket, with fixtures added to the end so it can firmly attach to the base of the warhead (40 seconds onwards)


These are just a couple of examples of the design quality of the munition, demonstrating this is something that's beyond anything the opposition has manufactured themselves, strongly indicating this is something that's been manufactured by the Syrian military, or one of it's allies.  More examination of the construction of the munition can be found here.

There's also a number of videos and images showing what appears to be there munitions, or variants, being used by government forces.  This first video shows what appears to be a larger version of the same munition being loaded into a launcher, and launched


This video claims to show one of the munitions launched from the government controlled Qadam railway station in Damascus


The below screenshots of the video clearly shows the profile of the rocket matching the unusual profile of the UMLACA


This image appears to show an UMLACA loaded into what arms expert Nic Jenzen-Jones has described as an Iranian Falaq-2 type launcher, with the same launching vehicle photographed in November 2012


It was also possible to find the precise location of one of the munitions fired, and deduce it was fired from the north, the same direction as the 155th brigade missile base, and related sites (detailed here).

This is the evidence that the Syrian government was capable of the attack, and had a history of using the munitions linked to the attack.  As for evidence of Syrian opposition responsibility, that appears rather thin on the ground.  You have claims the attacks were faked, the victims being Alawite hostages from Latakia, that were somehow driven through hundreds of miles of contested and government controlled territory to Damascus.  There's claims that this was some sort of accident involving Saudi supplied chemical weapons, which fails to explain how one incident could effect two separate areas.  Other claims centre around the opposition having sarin, based off reports in Turkey in May, where it was reported Jabhat al-Nusra members were arrested with sarin.  The "sarin" was later reported to be anti-freeze, and only this week some of the members are being prosecuted for trying to make sarin, having only a shopping list of ingredients, rather than actual sarin.  It seems to me, that compared to the evidence of government responsibility for the attacks, the evidence of opposition responsibility seems very poor.

More posted on the subject of the August 21st attacks can be found here, and other posts on chemical weapons and Syria, including extremely informative interviews with chemical weapon specialists, can be found here.

You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at brownmoses@gmail.com.





62 comments:

  1. Kudos for your meticulous research -- I look forward to your interpretation of the azimuth measurements adduced by the UN inspectors.

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  2. Does the stuff in the UN report about trajectories and azimuths provide any new info of merely confirm what you already knew ?

    http://davidp1.blogspot.com/

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  3. I'm not convinced. Far from it!

    Colin Powell broadcast "incontrovertible" NSA intercepts and shocking satellite images from the NRO for his UN presentation that "proved" Saddam had WMD.

    Except that was a lie. A deliberate lie.

    Yet Obama insists that THESE Syrian intercepts and satellite must remain classified.

    They released these intercepts and satellite fotos before, but refuse to now.

    Why?

    Syrian president Assad is a medical doctor. He is not stupid. Why would he countenance launching a chemical attack just two miles from where the UN inspection team was scheduled to reside in Damascus, 36 hours before they set foot in Damascus?

    Are you somehow claiming that foreign intelligence services are unable to construct various sophisticated munitions of a unique nature?

    Many of your photos are quite blurry and it is extraordinarily difficult to assert with any degree of confidence that they are what you purport them to be.

    What are the facts?

    The facts are that ANY military strike we conduct in Syria will ONLY make al Qaeda stronger. The bigger the attack, the more it helps al Qaeda.

    Let's assume your BEST case scenario here actually occurs and that we bomb Syria for 45 days, take out all his helicopter gunships and "accidentally" bomb Assad's residence, killing him in his bedroom.

    Let's further assume, as part of this BEST case scenario, that BOTH Hezbollah and Iran do NOT respond in any way. We declare ourselves king of the mountain.

    Ten days after the bombing stops, al Qaeda takes over Damascus.

    At that point, who will high five whom?

    Al Qaeda is the enemy.

    Al Qaeda wants to kill all the Christians and all the Shias.

    It is a CRIME to possess the New Testament in Saudi Arabia.

    By stark contrast, Christians thrive in Lebanon, Syria and Iran and are members of Parliament.

    Remember 9/11!


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  4. While I appreciate your work,I think that it adds little new atop we already knew into drawing a conclusion.
    We already knew that Syrian Army posses that kind of (obsolete) rockets and also sarin.
    The accident hypothesis, I agree, is extremely improbable because there were several different places affected.
    But...if we assume that the insurgents did it to provoke international response then I have to disagree with you.Because I stongly believe that due to its very delicate and sensitive nature,this operation was highly elaborated and classified.It was not to be the usually "Allahu Akhbar" thing to be uploaded on youtube.So no surprise that no vids are to be found to indicate that (handpicked part) the opposition may be implicated.
    The cui bono question still unaswered.
    I appreciate your work, except I don't think the conclusion should be to incriminate Syrian Government.

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    1. The 140mm rocket isn't quite obsolete, and however odd it looks, the other "UMLACA" weapon is part of a whole class of munitions apparently created during and for this conflict. Probably because the Syrian army found itself fighting a prolonged and much less mobile war than it was previously equipped for, where the range of its existing artillery proved to be awkwardly great.

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  5. DavidP, the point of that part of the report, which the authors leave uncommented on, probably because their terms of reference do not permit them to assign culpability directly, is that both assessable trajectories point to ordnance fired from a location closer to the centre of the city of Damascus, aimed towards suburbs to the South West and East respectively. Assuming it's true that the government's control of the city of Damascus was stronger than its control of the suburbs at the time of the attack, the trajectories are consistent with a chemical attack by government forces.

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  6. This is pure speculation, but could that unidentified valve/plug be over pressure release valve. Maybe some of the chemicals have to be vented out during flight because of the heat of the rocket motor or some other reason.

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    1. That seems reasonable. Another possible explanation is that it was used to facilitate filling--one port is the "fill" port the other is the "vent" port for air being displaced by the liquid entering the warhead.

      It could also be part of the dissemination mechanism. The warhead itself may be filled with nerve agent and then pressurized. On impact, the valve opens and disperses the Sarin as an aerosol.

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  7. Great work, I would like to link this to my blog if you don`t mind

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  8. A graphic on those two trajectories is here, if you wanted to see it: http://www.snappingturtle.net/flit/archives/2013_09_16.html#006904

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  9. The availability of citizen videos and journalist/activists videos is beginning to tell the truth. Social media is the conduit. Your analysis is thorough and builds a strong argument. I would like to interject something else as a possibility - a third party acting covertly to literally incite a protraction of the madness. I draw your attention to an investigation (see link below) going on regarding the disorder in Egypt where thousands were injured and untold numbers murdered by the military regime. What we determined by looking at citizen videos and live feeds is rifles and ammo being used by the military/police and the so-called MB demonstrators were the same identifiable arms. http://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/7386-international-legal-team-to-prosecute-emirati-officials-for-involvement-in-egyptian-atrocities

    Thank you and please keep up this excellent work to peel the rotting onions.

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  10. Still way too many loose ends , You claim that FSA dont have BM14 but this video shows they have http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcnz3dRV4TY . second we have to consider the logic in this. It makes no sense at all that Assad should attac with Gas while UN inspectors are in the country. Having Mr.Obamas red line in mind it makes a hell of a lot more sense that the FSA fired the Gas to get help from the west. Nice work thoug.

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    1. That's a 107mm Type-63 multiple rocket launcher, not a BM-14
      BM-14 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:16-tube_multiple_launch_rocket.JPG
      Type-63 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:H12_Type_63_multiple_rocket_launcher.JPG

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    2. What is the logic that is used when a government has its military fire SCUD missiles into the middle of cities in its own county? What is the logic that is used to justify a government that uses its air force to bomb its own capital?

      It appears that the regime got away with smaller gas attacks in the previous months. This one might have gotten screwed up as it was much bigger than previous ones.

      But who knows…

      But the bottom line is Assad is slowly losing. Time is not on his side as the Alawites make up only about 10% of the population of Syria. That 10% is slowly being actively opposed by a segment that makes up about 60% of the population.

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    3. There have been a dozen sarin attacks before by Assad, some as little as a small can thrown from a helicopter. In all cases it were rebel held areas that were targeted.

      Obama and the West did not act on these neurotoxic attacks, as they became more frequent and lethal. Assad is losing to the rebels those areas that were attacked. Assad has been making no progress, while base after base are falling to rebels. Assad had to make progress in Ghouta or lose morale.

      Assad got away with a dozen or so of chemical attacks. Now he wanted to get away with a larger scale attack.

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    4. Assad was caught with the wrong kind of firepower. Or rather, the rebels realized that most of his firepower was intended for a mobile and often long-range battle with the Israeli Army, and that their only viable strategy was to find from close range in built-up areas where the long-range firepower was useless.

      The small attacks were probably experimental in both ways: testing the international political temperature, and developing tactics and equipment for using "strategic" firepower at street fighting ranges.

      The only other tactic open to Assad that might work, is to embroil allies like Iran or Russia in the fight. It's beginning to look as if Iran doesn't fancy this, and Russia may have decided that Ukraine will make for richer booty than Syria, obtainable at far less risk.

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  11. If I can refer you to paragraph 23, the samples that tested positive only came from the rockets (UMLACA), not the 140mm artillery casing as mentioned, the 140mm artillery casing was negative to chemical warfare agent as reported in the results section on page 27.

    Also impact crater #4 on page 23, was negative for chemical warfare agent, as such, the precise origin (trajectory) of the rockets with chemical warfare agent is still indeterminable, save it being described as coming from the north or northwest. Ein Tarma and Zalamka are due east of Damascus, thus making it impossible to claim that these rockets were launched from the centre of Damascus, as a Bruce_R claims them to have been.

    Thus impact sites 1,2 & 4 can be ignored together with the trajectory information from these site reported, as they contained no chemical warfare agent and are thus convention munitions, thus leaving impact sites 3 and 5 that are due east of the Damascus.
    The graphics created by Bruce_R of the trajectories is thus incorrect, as he should read what is actually written, not what is ambiguously implied by the author/s which is the cause of his confusion.

    The opinion that author/s came to, that it "was on a relatively large scale" is un-maintainable, as the inspectors had visited dozens of sites not just the 5 impact sites mention in the report, but ONLY found TWO munitions and the immediate impact areas surrounding these impact sites, that tested positive for chemical warfare agent. Pages 30 & 33 (see the times the samples were taken)

    These two munitions both landed in residential areas, far away from the front line that the government was reportedly shelling at the time, the opposition fighters suffered no causalities as a result of the incident, but civilians did.

    Thus in conclusion, contrary to the incident being biasedly described as being "on a relatively large scale" in the report, eg like Halabja could be described as being, this atrocity was on a very limited scale, due the very limited number of munitions involved.

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    1. The report seems to me to be seriously flawed. You point out even more problems.

      The problems can be classified in several areas.

      1. The selection process for sites to inspect and people to examine was driven entirely by the opposition. The inspection team saw no-one that had not been presented by opposition. They also inspected no locations that had not been selected by the opposition.

      2. There were no control samples nor any attempt at a blind trial - especially the laboratory tests. What should have happened is samples from other locations should have been included in the anonymised samples sent to the laboratory.

      3. There was no attempt to examine bodies of alleged victims - to first of all work out how many there were, and second to determine cause of death.

      4. As you point out, there is highly selective reporting. Only 'interesting' results are provided out of the larger body of evidence collected.

      5. The symptoms reported often do not match standard symptoms in the literature yet they are reported without comment.

      If this was a high-school project report I'd give it an 'F'


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    2. Very good points. I've been also going through the report, and it seems very problematic so far.
      First of all, I agree that the M14 is clearly not related to chemical attacks. Samples taken from its region were negative for sarin, and positive for some sarin breakdown products. Comparing that to many positive sarin tests in Zamalka 2 days later, brings me to believe there was a sarin attack in Moadamyah, but at a different location, not related to the M14.
      For some reason there was no wipe taken from the M14, as was done for the Zamalka rockets.
      Its trajectory calculations seem very reliable, pointing that it is a conventional attack from SAA bases near Qudssaya. The report also explains why the rocket body survived the explosion (it separated from the warhead earlier).
      I must say the emphasis on the Cyrillic writing was very misleading, and doesn't seem like an innocent mistake to me.

      So we're left with the UMLACA, which does seem to be associated with sarin (if we ignore the possibility of intentional contamination on site). The report implies they originated from the military bases near Qudssaya. However, that's 9-10 km away. To me this seems too far for a rocket with a 60kg warhead, on a relatively small engine, with awful aerodynamics. Does anyone here know how to calculate whether that makes sense?
      It's interesting to note that at shorter distances on the same azimuth, we have rebel-controlled areas.

      Another troubling aspect of the report is that no samples were taken from locations far from the impact sites, so we have no idea whether the impact sites have higher concentrations. It's possible that the whole neighborhood is positive...

      Could you explain how you knew to associate which samples are related to which impact sites? I can't see that.

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    3. Sasa wawa: you can associate to location by the date taken.

      The fact the BM-14 site had byproducts and the UMLACA site had active sarin is not dispositive of a chemical attack at the first site. The lack of blast damage or munitions fragments at the impact point is supportive of a chem round, however.

      Actual range is about 8,000 m to the top of the government-held mountain. No one said it had to be accurate. Seems plausible.

      The report shows they did use blank wipes appropriately. Those should have caught above-average environmental concentrations if there were any.

      Charles: not sure you always need control samples on blood and urine tests, especially if you're sending everything to 2 independent labs. Otherwise my doctor's been doing it wrong all these years. Bodies: Muslim country, early burial. Opposition permission: yeah, civil war, couldn't be helped.

      "Unknown," I see no reason to correct my graphics. The report says the UMLACA came from the northwest, not "north or northwest", which is consistent with their azimuth finding. You added words there. Saying you can ignore samples with only sarin primary decomposition products on them is an interesting way to do NBC analysis, I must say. There's no evidence they visited "dozens of sites" in the report. They say they visited 5, out of which there was retrievable evidence at the 2 that they discuss in detail. The fact they could not do more sites in the time they had is not evidence there weren't many others. No one is saying all the alleged casualties were the results of just the 2 impact points they got to with potential forensic value. I do agree the report's wording in this section is somewhat ambiguous.

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    4. Bruce_r

      The control samples I meant were of buildings and ground away from the alleged impact point.

      However, controls for the medical samples would also be a good approach. That and the samples being sent to the labs being anonymous.

      This report is highly influential and normal scientific and medical protocols should and could have been observed.

      I'll re-emphasise, the only samples taken were from people and places selected especially by the opposition. There was no attempt at independent investigation and the investigation undertaken despite its list of protocols just doesn't make even high-school rigor.

      Finally, a point on your comment to sasa wava.

      Lack of blast damage at the BM-14 site does not indicate CW rockets. The most usual non-HE use of the rockets is for smoke. Since there is no indication of the date the munitions were fired and the location is an active battle-ground, a quite strong inference is available that these were smoke rounds expended as part of ongoing battles in the area.

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    5. Paragraph 23 does not say the positive samples came only from the UMLACA, and not the BM14.

      You are saying stuff that is not contained in the report.

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    6. Bruce_r, my apologies, I mistakenly wrote "north or northwest" it should have just been northwest, I had incorrectly remembered and applied the trajectory description for impact #4 when I reversed it mentally, however the graphics I maintain, is still incorrect, as the 330mm arrow is WNW, not NW which puts the launch site outside of government controlled territory, but still accessible to both sides.

      On the last paragraph of page 18, the author/s describe that the samples had been handled/moved prior to their arrival, as such the presence of non toxic impurities (IPMPA) and no MPFA ,page 34, Is not proof of a chemical warfare agent having been used in the 140mm impact site #1, and as such I not giving it any weight.

      The fact that the report mentions biomedical samples testing positive to "Sarin exposure"(assuming they are refering to BioMarkers) for civilians interviewed in Moadamiyah (the site of the 140mm impact #1 and 2), can also be explained by the facts that when the atrocity occurred people were ambulanced to 'field hospital and medical facilities' as written in the bottom of the state departments graphics mention above, thus making the incident appear to be on a map as relatively large scale, when in fact it was just only TWO munitions.

      And they did visit dozens of sites, but as you mentioned these sites can/or were selectively chosen, and manipulation can worked both ways, by both sides unfortunately.

      As for control samples, it appears that these were done for the environmental samples, page 34. and not done for BioMedical, as there were 36 patients and there are only 36 results, having said that I am confident that because not all results were identified as being positive, there could not have been a systemic problem with the sampling, plus the fact that we know that TWO munitions had chemical warfare agent in them, so you expect to find people with exposure, and again interestingly, no opposition fighters just civilian causalities.

      Does anyone know why on page 34 some numbers are highlighted in yellow, but there is no legend key for these, are they laboratory negative control samples? as the last one has a description of being an OPCW Laboratory control spike, plus they have no sampling date, which is strange, as #37 also has no sampling date, but is not highlighted yellow.

      Kalid, you need to read the report and correlate the sampling times and the descriptions, as unfortunately the author/s were ambiguous in their report, but the laboratory data when matched with the sample description, definitively shows there was no chemical warfare agent detected, and as I mentioned earlier, IPMPA is not a chemical warfare agent, and civilians interviewed/sampled in Moadamiyah did not have to be residents of Moadamiyah, thus leaving Ein Tarma and Zalamka, and still only TWO munitions.

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    7. Bruce_R,

      The report clearly states that the warhead probably sheared off the body when hitting the adjacent building. Lack of blast damage is therefore NOT indicative of CW. It also makes the most sense given that the M14 body was not found anywhere else, and it would be weird for the same organization to use both an M14 with 2kg sarin and the UMLACA with 60.

      The blank wipes they prepared seem to be a control for preventing fraud or mistakes by the Labs. What I'm looking for is a soil sample from an area that is far from an impact site. Is there anything in the report that refutes the possibility of someone driving around the area after the attack distributing sarin? Are the impact sites more contaminated than other areas?

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    8. Unknown - IPMPA is of course not a nuerotoxic agent, but it is one of the compounds created with the breakdown of sarin, which can be pretty fast. It is a marker for sarin.

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    9. I agree it's a probable sarin marker. Just saying the report seems to disassociate M14 with a chemical attack.

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  12. Bruce_R

    One other point. The 140mm rocket site had only two rocket carcases. If there had been a CW attack there would have been dozens of them as each one could only contain a tiny amount of CW agent.

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    1. Where do you see 2 rockets? I see only one.
      The "Impact site number 2" is mentioned in just one place with no explanations what was found there or how an azimuth was calculated.
      To me the report seems clear there was only one M14 rocket body.

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    2. Page 23 of the report, impact sites 1 & 2, states they are 65 metres apart.

      Separate from the report I've seen the figure of two 140mm rockets but I can't locate it precisely right now - probably on this blog though.

      What we do know is that only one was analysed for chemicals, but that is no reason to disregard the other.

      Personally I think a conventional use for the rockets is more likely - probably smoke and probably not on the date of the alleged CW attack.

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    3. Impact site does not imply a rocket being found. seems like it was just a crater.

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    4. On the basis of its analysis, the Mission concluded that it – and I quote – “collected clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used in the Ein Tarma, Moadamiyah and Zalmalka in the Ghouta area of Damascus.”

      Dispatches: Mapping the Sarin Flight Path http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/09/17/dispatches-mapping-sarin-flight-path

      HRW, Josh Lyons: presumed flight paths of the rockets converge on a well-known military base of the Republican Guard 104th Brigade
      “Impact site number 1 (Moadamiya) and impact site number 4 (Ein Tarma),” the inspectors wrote, “provide sufficient evidence to determine, with a sufficient degree of accuracy, the likely trajectory of the projectiles.” They go on to say that 3 of the rockets they inspected had bearings of 34 and 35 degrees for 2 of the rockets that landed in Moadamiya, and 285 degrees for 1 of the rockets that landed in Ein Tarma.

      So, at Ein Tarma, the shaft/engine of the rocket pointed precisely to 285 degrees, so that its trajectory was that it was heading in an East/Southeast direction (105 degrees).
      At Moadamiya (site number 1), the rocket was heading in a direction of 215 degrees. At site number 2, 65 metres from number 1, the rocket was heading in a direction of 214 degrees.

      Site number 1 provides the more conclusive evidence (piercing of vegetal screening etc.) but site number 2 corroborates it.

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    5. There was no information about how site 2 azimuth was calculated so it's hard to evaluate it.
      As far as I can tell, there was only 1 rocket body found, and it was not linked to a chemical attack. It seems like a conventional M14 attack originating from SAA bases.
      The azimuths in Zamalka are less reliable, but even if we assume they're correct, it seems highly unlikely that a rocket of that structure could travel 9.6 km.
      Bottom line - there is no evidence tying a chemical attack to the SAA bases near Qudssaya.

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  13. From EAworldview.com

    "Russian State News Agency: USSR Supplied M-14s To Syria In 1967-69

    Russian State news agency ITAR-TASS points out that one of the munitions identified in the UN inspectors’ report into the August 21 chemical weapons attacks is a Soviet M-14.

    Perhaps to distance Moscow from any association with the attacks, ITAR-TASS points out that the M-14s were supplied to Syria from 1967-1969 and are now retired.

    However, ITAR-TASS points out that the 140-millimeter shells of the M-14 were designed to be used in the multiple launch rocket systems of the Uragan (Hurricane) or the RPU-14, which entered service in 1956.

    As ITAR-TASS explains, the M-14 can be equipped with either high-explosive or chemical warheads or a warhead with a white phosphorus payload.

    The Soviet army began to replace its M-14s with the modern BM-21 Grad missiles in the mid-1960s, but ITAR-TASS notes that as of 2010, the M-14 remained in service with a number of countries, including Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt and Yemen.

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    1. The white phosphorus warhead is more commonly known as a smoke warhead as that is its primary use. It's not usually an incendiary, nor anti-personnel.

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    2. As you well know, WP will set fire to almost anything burnable it lands on, and causes both burns and toxic effects to personnel whose skin is touched by chunks of burning phosphorus.

      The legal use of WP as a smoke round excludes built up areas with civilians in, which was the basis of much condemnation of the Israelis when they used it in Gaza.

      US Marines call a mixed bombardment of HE and WP a "shake and bake" for a very good reason.

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  14. Charles: I agree you can't ever discount use of smoke munitions when evaluating alleged uses of chemical artillery. However, there's 2 kinds of smoke munition: base-eject (BE) and white phosphorus (WP).

    BE rounds, like chem rounds, have no bursting charge, leave no crater (like chem artillery rounds, they are normally time-fuzed to disperse their payload in flight, before the impact), and thus they do have a signature potentially mistakable for a chemical counterpart. Because they require precise fuzing, they are much more commonly seen in tubed artillery, not rockets, which tend to rely on impact fuzing.

    WP rounds, on the other hand, have to contain a significant bursting charge to disperse their payload on impact and leave a VERY different signature at the impact point, unmistakable to an expert. If the ITAR-TASS report on the BM-14s is correct that the only available smoke round for that weapon is WP (and it probably is; as I said very few artillery rockets have the fuzing potential to support BE rounds), that alone would actually pretty much rule out mistaking smoke for chem in the current case.

    Ref controls, this isn't an epidemiological study where the controls you outline would be valuable. They took people with reported sarin symptomology in local hospitals and confirmed the physical presence of sarin in their systems. It's exactly analogous to a blood test at your doctors if you go in saying you're feeling well: it adds no value for my doctor to go test a random person besides me to see what's in their blood at the same time. The protocol used confirms the agent and rules out fakers, mass hysteria, and bad diagnostics, that's all it was meant to do. In my experience most studies in active war zones without the ability to physically control subjects or locations would not meet "high school standards." As far as having no indication of the date the attack occurred, I'm not clear how you could ever derive that forensically here, other than the eyewitness accounts they clearly relied on.

    Sasa Wawa, agreed, the report is a little unclear in that section, but ref the "2 rockets statement" I read it as the "BM-14 site" had a single rocket engine that was firmly tieable to a ground impact signature with a calculatable azimuth, and a second associated impact signature 65m away, which suggested a standard artillery rocket spread pattern to the analyst. The "UMLACA site" also had two recent munitions signatures (roof and field) close to each other, but the analyst couldn't make any estimation of an azimuth on the first any more precise than "from the northwest."

    Ref soil sampling, sarin degrades so quickly in sunlight that testing of anything other than debris associated with an alleged attack would have had little value. Also, note the 60L is the measurement of the internal volume of the munition, not necessarily its payload, although yes, a 330mm munition will certainly contain at least 5-6 times more payload than a 140mm one, if not more.

    Unknown, agreed there's all kinds of error bars here. I would have liked to see geocoordinates for those 2 impact points. But the arrows as drawn are the two numeric azimuth values from the reports and best-guess impact points. Again your statement that the inspectors visited dozens of other sites that they didn't report any data from is not supported in their report.

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    1. They did find GB in soil samples near the UMLACA, so it would've been very valuable to take soil samples at several distances from it. Very annoying that they didn't do it.

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    2. sasawawa - You mean if you take a random soil sample and send it to a lab, they may find sarin or a byproduct in it?

      Never thought of this fact. I mean we all walk on soil and there could be sarin in the very soil we walk on. No wonder as a kid I was told not to taste soil. Just imagine the danger that we are exposed to daily, and we were ignorant about. I think you need to alert the public that coming close to soil can be fatal.

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    3. Sorry I wasn't clear - I'll try to explain again:
      There was a wide scale sarin attack in the Zamalka area. The UN went there and took soil samples that were tested positive for sarin. However, all soil samples were taken near the UMLACA impact sites. Since they didn't take soil samples in locations in the same area that are far from the impact sites, the association of the attack with the UMLACA is not as strong as it could be.
      For example, let's say the attack was done by a vehicle distributing sarin in the area. In that case we would find sarin in soil samples all over that area - both near and far from impact sites.
      Hope I explained myself better.

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    4. Given that most of these weapons would disperse their cloud in the air if they operate correctly, and not all the impact points are known either, I don't believe you could determine anything of value with the method you're outlining above.

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    5. sasa wawa: Controls are used in the laboratory analysis. In fact, in order to validate their competency at detecting chemical agents, OPCW-certified labs must confirm a positive control (i.e., a sample spiked with nerve agent) and reject a negative control (i.e., find no nerve agent on a sample known not to contain any nerve agent).

      Obtaining an actual soil control on the frontlines would be difficult, to say the last. It isn't as simple as walking a few miles away and collecting some of the soil.

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    6. no need to walk miles away. a sample 100,200 and 400m away from the impact site would have been very useful.

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    7. "a [soil] sample 100,200 and 400m away from the impact site would have been very useful."

      Again, it isn't so straightforward. This was a suspected chemical attack, not an experiment. "Control" samples have to be designed from the beginning. How can they be certain that a soil sample 100, 200, or 400m away from a (suspected) chemical munition contains no nerve agent residue--or that it does? It isn't predictable. There are no meaningful control samples to be collected from the field. The best that can be done is to use reference materials to prepare control samples in the lab.

      Given the certification process, the rigorous chain of custody, the performance qualifications, and the fact that multiple labs arrived at the same conclusions, there is no reason to doubt the accuracy of OPCW's methods from an analytical chemistry perspective.

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  15. The range of the 300+mm rocket is quite important.

    The equivalent US SLUFAE device had a range of under 1000 metres. Admitted it had a drogue but without a drogue it wouldn't have made it much beyond 1500 metres.

    The Syrian 300+mm rocket being very un aerodynamic and certainly unstable could not be expected to travel much beyond 2500 metres. And that's being very generous.

    The Hezbolah IRAMs in Iraq were all used at very short ranges. The design is to throw a large amount of explosive a short distance. It's ideal for urban combat.

    SLUFAE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjUwkNaJgJs

    A point raised by CJ Chivers is interesting. He claims that the insurgents couldn't have launched the missiles because the launchers would be very large and obvious.

    The reverse is also true. Out of the entire war there are only two instances of launchers used by the Government being seen.

    Combine the very short range of the rockets with the wide geographical spread of the targets and you have a serious logistical problem for the Government to deploy enough launchers close enough to the targets - and also factor in the extremely low rate of fire - probably two rounds per hour per tube.

    The alternative of improvised launchers such as U-rails is equally available to both the opposition and the Government.

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    1. Good points Charles. I mean who would have thought that the rebels would kill 1,400 of their own families, friends, and acquaintances? I am sure they were very happy to do that because that would bring in the Americans to level Syrial, which is their agenda.

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    2. Khalid,

      That's about the same level of argument that Putin made when he asked why would the Syrian Government attack people with gas when he was winning and when there was UN inspectors within kilometres of the area.

      Out of the choice between an anonymous poster on a blog and the president of one of the most powerful countries in the world, I obviously accept your point and dismiss Putin's point outright.

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    3. Khalid - they didn't bomb their own families. They bombed an area controlled by a competing rebel faction.
      Here are some points to consider:
      - Zamalka is FSA dominant
      - ISIS has declared war against the FSA
      - 6 weeks before the attack a car bomb exploded in an FSA funeral in Zamalka killing 85.

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    4. I agree the range of that munition is an open question of importance. But while superficially similar, I don't believe you can derive too much from the SLU-FAE example.

      To start with, that US example was a converted air-to-surface rocket: whereas we don't know enough about this munition yet to assess its limitations. Also, because it was meant as a mineclearer, SLU-FAE never had to be far from its objective.

      This particular weapon is now very strongly associated with sarin delivery after the UN report... a very short range nerve gas delivery system would seem a very bad idea, generally speaking.

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    5. Charles - any evidence of Assad winning the war? On the contrary, he is losing base after base, just lost base 66, and he is gaining nothing.

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    6. The heart of the issue is where these rebel factions acquired so much Sarin to kill 1000+ people. For some perspective,

      "A U.S. Defense Department model illustrates the problem. Releasing ten kilograms (22 pounds) of sarin
      into the open air under favorable weather conditions covers about one-hundredth of a square kilometer with
      lethal effects. Since population densities in U.S. urban areas are typically around 5,000 people per square
      kilometer, such an attack would kill about 50 people.
      Releasing 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of sarin into the open air affects about ten times as much area and
      therefore would kill approximately 500 people. Releasing 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) into the open air
      would cover several square kilometers, killing about 10,000 people. Thus, only in an open-air attack using
      amounts approaching 1,000 kilograms of sarin would the effects become distinctly greater than that
      attainable by such traditional terrorist means as conventional explosives."
      (From "Defending America/Redefining the Conceptual Borders of Homeland Defense/Terrorism, Asymmetric Warfare and Chemical Weapons, by Anthony H Cordesman, published by Center for Strategic and International Studies, Feb 14, 2001)

      So assuming similar population densities in Damascus as the average US city, anywhere from 100 to 1000 kg of Sarin was used on August 21. That's 25 to 250 gallons. While lab-scale preparation of Sarin is straightforward, manufacture on that scale is no small task. It's not an operation for a clandestine lab in a war zone.

      Even if the agents were captured from the regime, available evidence shows that the regime stores their nerve agents as binary compounds. These have to be combined, (possibly) purified, and loaded into shells shortly before use. Without the technical expertise, this is a suicidal task.

      Regarding the range: it may not be as important as you think. Chemical weapons are loaded into hand grenades. If you're wearing protective gear and your enemies are not, that's all that matters.

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    7. There are more than two possible culprits. What we have is just history repeating, the pro-democracy uprising, that is propaganda without any meaningful truth.

      The initial idea was revenge for 1982 Hama massacre, within a few weeks, Christians and Alawites in general were simply added to the immediate target list, also the non-interventionists. The patriotic opposition.

      The latter, the regime's pluralist or relatively sane opponents had to be protected by the regime, doubly damning them. But damned once is more than enough for this war.

      The war in Syria is like Bosnia, it may turn into Rwanda.

      As soon as the reports reached Russia of a chemical attack, senior politicians assumed it was the beginning of a new genocide of Christians.

      "Christians tremble like peasants behind a crumbling castle wall, hoping that Syrian troops will manage to keep out the advance."

      http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/the-uprising-and-the-new-syria-islamists-rise-in-raqqa-while-damascene-christians-dodge-fire-by-matthew-barber/

      The insurgents in the area, are attacking the Christians, advancing towards them, and so why not a non-state party looking out for themselves? If the insurgents win, the Christians are going to die. That's a good incentive for self-reliance.

      So, why does it have to be insurgents or the regime? The Syrian desert is covered in the bones of the Armenian nation, and things are looking a little grim.

      The insurgents and their Turkish sponsors for all intents and purposes are the direct descendants of the people who carried out the genocide.

      http://www.christianpost.com/news/russian-official-urges-defense-of-christians-in-syria-in-wake-of-chemical-attack-102773/

      That was the reaction in Russia, the west, doesn't care about Druze, Alawites or Christians, the United States has other issues, the civil war in Syria, is merely a component.

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  16. Hello,
    I enjoyed reading your blog about your analysis of the evidence , but I noticed that you are not buying the story about the opposition having the Sarin and other Chemicals , I came cross many videos showing the opposition exterminating on rabbits and other animals with such chemicals, please see this video ,,,
    http://youtu.be/2qwwCmkmcs4
    I can send you more if you want ..
    so do they have it , I think yes ..
    Would they do it to bring on the Marines , I think yes ,, would they kill their people , they kill with mass explosives , car bombing innocent poor people , look at Iraq .. they will kill anyone to reach their goal ..
    Whoever did this attack, I hope he/they get the worst death on this life and burn in hell ..

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  17. Moses, how far can a non spinning 330mm rocket with a 55 liter trashcan on top fly? what is the range? and accuracy?

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    1. According to a report by Human Rights Watch who claim to have accurately plotted the trajectory of the rocket to a Syrian army base.This version of rocket can travel over 9kms with a 55kg payload according to their experts.You can read their report online.

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    2. That rocket is going to hit nothing it is aimed at over 9 klicks. Syria is a country with creative provision and that weapon is not so difficult to make.

      The regime has a number of constituencies fighting on its behalf, Russians, Armenians, a mixture of Slavs, how do we know somebody didn't get the Sarin in the south Caucasus?

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  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  19. From my knowledge the diameter of a tube launched weapon is the diameter of the main body and not the tail fin. On your diagram you state the diameter of the main body is 345mm which in turn renders the rocket 345mm not 330mm. Due to the measurements having been taken with a tape measure and not a engineering tool such as a caliper there exists the possibility of error.The main part of any rocket is the propulsion system which determines the maximum payload and effective range.From your research i am sure you have come across a similar rocket that could deliver a 60kg payload,they where designed in the USA and shelved by the US military due to its limited range of 150 meters.Has any research been performed on what military and intelligence specialists would class as highly significant evidence the propulsion system evidence of which if not tampered with is located in the tail, According to Human Rights Watch this rocket can travel over 9km with a 60kg payload,Aceing the USA design by 8850 meters..

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  20. REF; Video on Syria Youtube Playlists; Syrian Government Chemical Attack Linked; Video 9, 13, 20, and 21.
    1. More on the rocket motor (size and assembly details).
    Most folks on here have seen the video were they take apart the dud UMLACA (video 20). In this video they unscrew the 12 bolts that attach the warhead to the rocket motor assembly and remove the rocket motor assembly from the warhead. The question is what is the actual diameter of the rocket motor, which is contained in the gray outer tube, and how is the rocket motor secured to the gray outer housing of the UMLACA (with fins attached).
    a. If you notice at the end of video 20 they have already removed the actual rocket motor from the gray outer UMLACA tube They also are removing the nozzle assembly from the actual rocket motor. According to the measurements provided in the pictures the diameter of the nozzle is about 104/105mm but the actual diameter of the rocket motor is actually larger then the diameter of the nozzle. When you look about 1.5 inches forward of the nozzle you will see a finely machined/welded larger diameter metal ring/band. This ring/band is about 16mm to 18mm larger than the diameter of the rocket motor nozzle and when added to the rocket motor nozzle diameter will give you the actual diameter of the rocket motor that is contained in the gray UMLACA tube (apx 122mm).
    b. The rocket motor is attached to the gray UMLACA outer housing by a number of bolts (number of bolts?). These rocket motor mounting bolts are visible in the videos referenced (some have been sheered due to impact). These bolts (holes) are on the outside rear of the gray UMLACA outer tube between the fins. The rocket motor nozzle assembly ring/band are female thread and the male threaded bolts secure the outer gray UMLACA tube to the inner rocket motor nozzle assembly ring/band making them one complete assembly. There are a few pictures/videos (video 9 in particular) that show the nozzle assembly extended about six or so inches and clearly show the bolt shearing effect due to the rockets impact with the ground.
    2. The UMLACA warheads and outer gray rocket motor housing don't seem to be manufactured at a MIL-SPEC level but the actual rocket motor, particularly the nozzle assembly seems to be of much higher quality and probably of MIL-SPEC grade construction.
    3. I believe that just like the US M130 SLUFAE the UMLACA rocket motor is a MIL-SPEC production item that has been some what modified (removed fins etc) to provided propulsion for the UMLACA rocket. My best guess is its a modified 122mm rocket motor.

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    1. I made a mistake. They don't remove the UMLACA warhead in video 20. They remove the 12 bolts from the rocket motor to warhead adapter and then remove the gray UMLACA outer tube (with fins attached). The rocket motor is still inserted in the central warhead tube. The warhead central tube/forward portion of the rocket motor may be damaged due to impact which may prevent removal of the warhead from the rocket motor.

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