Sep 22, 2013

Brown Moses and HRW Reports

If this is your first time here, I recommend starting from the conclusion page.

After reviewing the evidence presented in the UN Report and US Government Assessment, and finding it to be of negligible value, I will now examine the evidence from Brown Moses' blog and the HRW report that relies on it.

Unlike the UN and US, who presented flawed evidence and low quality analysis, Brown Moses consistently provides high quality reports based on reliable evidence and a transparent process. As a side note, the fact that a blogger is a more trusted source than these organizations is yet another testament to the deep social transformations brought about by the Internet.

Brown Moses' conclusion is that "all credible evidence points to the Syrian military being responsible for the August 21st attack".

His conclusion is based on the following evidence (further detailed here):
  1. The UN has linked the M14 and the UMLACA to the chemical attacks.
  2. He has never seen either of these used by the Syrian opposition.
  3. The opposition has reported being attacked by UMLACA since January 4th 2013.
  4. The UMLACA was identified in a previous chemical attack in Adra on August 5th.
  5. A video shows a launch of a rocket similar in design to the UMLACA by forces that seem to be from the Syrian Army.
  6. Another video shows a launch of a rocket similar in design to the UMLACA from a government controlled area.
  7. A Syrian Army vehicle with an Iranian Falaq-2 type launcher was photographed showing a tail of a rocket similar to the UMLACA.
  8. One of the UMLACA found in Zamalka was launched from the north, the location of several Syrian military bases.
  9. While the UMLACA is not a standard weapon but something manufactured locally, it is of high quality, which he estimates to be beyond the capabilities of the opposition.
  10. There is no reliable evidence tying the opposition to chemical attacks.
Additionally, the HRW report also relies on the attack requiring sophistication and coordination beyond the reach of the opposition, specifically:
  1. The attack involved two neighborhoods that are 16 km apart
  2. It involved huge amounts of sarin (over 600 kg)
  3. The rockets require special launchers
So now let's examine the

The UN has linked the M14 and the UMLACA to the chemical attacks.
As shown before, the evidence in the UN report actually shows that unlike the UMLACA, the M14 is not linked to chemical attacks. There are also some holes in the UN's association of the UMLACA with the chemical attack, but overall the evidence seems strong that the UMLACA was indeed the weapon.

He has never seen either of these used by the Syrian opposition.
Indeed there is no reliable evidence of an opposition UMLACA attack. However, the Syrian Army is not in the habit of uploading videos showing ammunition used against it. The only way we could know if rebels are using an UMLACA is if they choose to share this information.
Update: This new video shows opposition UMLACA launches.

The opposition has reported being attacked by UMLACA since January 4th 2013.
Previous reports are analyzed in detail here. Rebel controlled areas have been attacked by conventional and White Phosphorus UMLACAs several times. However, Zamalka is the first UMLACA chemical attack on a rebel area.

The UMLACA was identified in a previous chemical attack in Adra on August 5th.
According to this analysis, it seems there was no chemical attack and possibly even no UMLACA attack in Adra on August 5th.

A video shows a launch of a rocket similar in design to the UMLACA by forces that seem to be from the Syrian Army.
Indeed this video is a strong piece of evidence. The heavy equipment used, the uniforms and the reported location in Mezzeh airport clearly indicate this is a regime operation. The very unique design is nearly identical to the UMLACA, clearly implying they are from one source.
The rocket in the video is obviously much bigger than the others. I estimate it to be roughly 50% larger in all dimensions except for the warhead length which is maybe 100% longer. This would bring it to a total weight of over 500 kg.
The slow operation and the large number of people bring me to believe this is a test of a new version of the UMLACA.

Another video shows a launch of a rocket similar in design to the UMLACA from a government controlled area.
The rocket in this video does seem to be an UMLACA, but I haven't seen a reliable geolocation of the launch site. If anyone has such evidence, please share.
Update: After examining satellite images of the area, I confirm it does seem like Qadam Railway station.

A Syrian Army vehicle with an Iranian Falaq-2 type launcher was photographed showing a tail of a rocket similar to the UMLACA.
This photograph also seems to show Syrian Army personnel, and the tail is similar to the distinctive UMLACA tail. More important, the size of the rocket is the "normal" size.
However, the launcher is probably not a Falagh-2 as suggested, since the UMLACA's 360 mm warhead could not fit in it. Judging by its crude appearance, I believe that like the UMLACA, it is a new design unique to the conflict.
It is interesting to note that in both pictures the launcher is in a residential area, indicating that the Army does not view it as a secret weapon.
Update 2: This video from December 2012 clearly shows an UMLACA with a conventional warhead being launched from a Syrian Army location.
Update 3: Brown Moses has found several more videos of UMLACA launches associated with the Syrian Army.
Update 4: This Syrian Army promotional video found by user simla1 on Brown Moses also shows an UMLACA launch.
Update 5: Another video showing the Syrian Army with an UMLACA launcher (from Brown Moses).
Update 6: This video shows a launch by the Syrian Army from up close of the bigger version mentioned above.

One of the UMLACA found in Zamalka was launched from the north, the location of several Syrian military bases.
The northern source for the Zamalka attack is correct, and supported by more evidence here. However, the distance to the military bases in the north is about 8 km, while the UMLACA's range was calculated to be 2.5 km. This puts the launch location outside regime-held territory.

While the UMLACA is not a standard weapon but something manufactured locally, it is of high quality, which he estimates to be beyond the capabilities of the opposition.
The UMLACA's build quality is well below that of standard munitions, but it indeed seems to be above the quality of opposition-produced weapons. Determining whether this is true would require a much deeper analysis. In any case, there is enough evidence to show the UMLACA is a Syrian Army development.

There is no reliable evidence tying the opposition to chemical attacks.
This is of course opinion and not evidence. Evidence for a rebel attack is examined in later posts.

The attack involved two neighborhoods that are 16 km apart
This assumes that a chemical attack occurred in Moadamiyah, which this analysis shows is probably not the case. Even if so, the Moadamiyah attack was much smaller and occurred 2.5 hours later, so it would not in itself imply large scale coordination.

It involved huge amounts of sarin (over 600 kg)
The amount of sarin used in the attack is indeed large - much larger than the amounts used in the Tokyo sarin attack for example. However, as shown here, this amount is within the reach of several Syrian opposition organizations. Furthermore, the sarin was of poor quality indicating underground production.

The rockets require special launchers
While a launcher provides higher accuracy and safety, it is not required. The opposition was repeatedly shown to launch rockets using makeshift launchers. Furthermore, the assumption that the opposition does not have an UMLACA launcher (or any other weapon of the Syrian Army) is unfounded, as explained in detail here.

Summary:
  1. The evidence implying a large-scale coordinated attack out of the capability of the opposition is weak. 
  2. The geolocation of the attack source to military bases is very weak. Actually, a more careful analysis results in locations within rebel held territory.
  3. The evidence associating the regime with the use of rockets similar to those used in the August 21st chemical attack is very strong.
  4. Use of weaponry of the Syrian Army is very weak evidence of regime culpability, due to the frequent opposition raids on ammunition depots.
Conclusion: Brown Moses, with his munition analysis, is the only one to present reliable evidence on the chemical attack. However, it does not in itself indicate regime culpability, and the other evidence he presents was found to be weak.

Did I miss anything? Please share your evidence and analysis and help me improve my conclusions.

40 comments:

  1. Allow me to bring a psychological consideration to this technical debate. According to conventional wisdom,Bashar Al Assad is a bloodthirsty homicidal maniac who "doesn't care" about committing atrocities on his own people.Why would he go through all the hassle of using unidentified munitions & launchers to cover his tracks on this particular attack?.This methodology of concealing doesn't fit with the larger psychological profile of a dictatorial individual,who wants to show the world his determination to crush his enemies,& remains in power at all cost.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I will try to analyze motivations soon. You bring some valid points which I'll take into account.
      Thanks!

      Delete
    2. 'According to conventional wisdom,Bashar Al Assad is a bloodthirsty homicidal maniac who "doesn't care" about committing atrocities on his own people'

      whos conventional wisdom?

      lets see what syrians think, not dodgy nameless bloggers: www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4jZsFhjaNc‎

      interesting but syrians dont Assad your way nameless guys

      Delete
  2. There have been a number of different design over-sized rockets used by SAA

    e,g, http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=f85_1377951766 which appears to be a 107mm rocket with a custom head - see 1:12

    However there is also video of the opposition manufacturing rocket warheads at

    http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=130_1357682300
    (oversized warheads at 1:52?)

    Then you have the supersized 500kg unit once-off and multiple 'UMLACA' instances with various payload configurations and possibly different motors.

    The discrepancy between the UN 360mm and the BM 330mm measurement is worrying. The simplest explanation is that BM deliberately understated the diameter to match the falaq2 333 mm for political purposes. There are a number of posts of his that indicate he's not impartial on Syria. If that is correct then the evidence he presents or more importantly doesn't present is significant. For example he hasn't discussed the likely range of the UMLACA and certainly hasn't questioned the HRW range estimates and link to 4th Brigade.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Charles,

      The first video was already analyzed by Brown Moses here:
      http://brown-moses.blogspot.co.il/2013/08/proof-syrian-military-is-using.html

      The second video is interesting. Pretty high quality work. Thanks for sharing.

      I don't think BM is promoting a political agenda. I'm sure he'll correct his estimates now that the UMLACA range is known. Let's see...

      Delete
    2. If you check the first video you link to - The Brown Moses one - you will see in the comments:

      "I've been following this blog since almost the beginning of the Syria conflict because it seemed to focus on finding out the truth from the neutral viewpoint, despite the FSA donations banner on the side."

      I didn't make that comment but I did note the donation banner earlier. I thought it was extraordinary that an allegedly objective blogger would also raise funds for the insurrection. Hence my comment on this blog.

      The banner has obviously now gone for reasons best known to BM.

      Delete
    3. That's very interesting information. I'd like to hear BM's response to it.

      Delete
  3. Forgot the Falagh-2 info links. The documents are on my Google Drive. I also include the UN and HRW diagrams/data for comparison convenience:

    https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B43h4G0cv2VibUZQeTM2bVN5QW8/edit?usp=sharing
    https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B43h4G0cv2VidVNxMEk5UE5YQzg/edit?usp=sharing
    https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B43h4G0cv2ViTGFwZmZ5cWFyOFk/edit?usp=sharing
    https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B43h4G0cv2VieXBMSFZrQUd4NEk/edit?usp=sharing

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Darn, I am not sure what the issue is, but my lengthy post on BM-14 and M-14 had disappeared. Oh well, not time to retype now. This is the second time this happened.

      Delete
  4. NightWatch 20130918

    Special comment: Human Rights Watch published a useful report with a map that showed range rings for what its author considers the likely firing ranges and location for the two rockets examined by the UN inspectors. The location was determined by back tracking the trajectory from the information provided in the UN report.

    This report and map have received extensive news coverage because the commentary concludes that they implicate Syrian army units at a large Syrian army base. It includes a Republican Guard unit and an armored division. Some news outlets have cited this as conclusive proof that only Syrian units could have fired the rockets.

    It is a useful and elementary thing to do with the UN information about the rockets. It is far from conclusive because so many assumptions have to be made in such an analysis and need to be stated up front, as assumptions.

    Old hands at detailed military intelligence have done this kind of analysis hundreds of times over decades, on multiple continents and in multiple crises, but not usually from buried rocket bodies. Back tracking over distances measured in miles from the orientation of a buried rocket body requires even more assumptions. A threshold one is that the impact areas were not disturbed.

    The UN inspectors said the impact areas had been traveled; people were seen carrying and handling pieces of munitions. These are buzz words for a contaminated scene and deception. The inspectors dutifully reported what they found and measured, but provided no assurance that the rocket bodies had not been moved, twisted or handled.

    Another assumption is that the rockets flew true. Back tracking a trajectory from a buried rocket body that was fired from a multiple rocket launcher in a saturation attack is tricky because the rockets are unguided and are supposed to scatter. Compounding this problem is that the inspectors examined two different rocket bodies, one 140-mm in diameter and the other 330-mm.

    That is important information for many reasons, including that the two would not have the same range, payload or impact. The inspectors said one of the rocket bodies they examined resembled an M14 rocket which is fired from the BM-14 16-tube rocket launcher. The map rings in the Human Rights Watch report were drawn using known BM-14 minimum and maximum ranges.

    The UN report does not constitute proof that a BM-14 weapon was used, with its known range and characteristics. It only indicates that a rocket body like an M14 was examined.

    (continued next post)

    ReplyDelete
  5. (continued from previous post)

    Al Jazeera published on 17 September a video of a rocket manufacturing workshop run by the Free Syrian Army. It contains computer driven lathes. The video narrator said he was told the shop produces three kinds of rockets used by rebel forces, one of which has the same range as the BM 14 launcher. The shop makes the rocket bodies and motors, the warheads and the detonators. This is circumstantial, but relevant.

    The back tracked trajectories were drawn to meet at the large Syrian Army base, but that assumes only M14 rockets were fired; the trajectory information is accurate and, critically, the Syrian army still uses BM14s. No one has explained the presence of the 330-mm diameter rocket plate. Open source information indicates the Syrian army does not have BM14s or rockets that are 330-mm in diameter.

    There are other pitfalls in this kind of analysis, including examination of the influence of terrain, weather and other external factors. A major problem is that it satisfices. It has cognitive allure because it provides a quick, neat, seemingly comprehensive and easily understood solution.

    That nurtures premature cognitive closure, which means the analyst prematurely stops his search for evidence. Contrary leads are not followed and additional, necessary corroborative leads that might nuance or alter the conclusions are ignored. Contradictory evidence is not given the weight or mental energy that is applied to the solution that satisfices. Other cognitive problems characteristic of bias follow.

    In a more complete analysis, the next essential steps before presenting it to a senior official would be to determine the rocket launching capabilities of the suspect Syrian Army units; locate the rocket launcher units; locate the suspect chemical warfare depots or supply vehicles; identify likely firing sites on the base and look for signs that troops recently handled chemical weapons. There have been a sufficient number of Syrian army defectors that the answers should be easily available, probably from men who served in the suspect units.

    Those appreciations might be followed by a search for likely firing sites from other locations. At least one range ring on the map overlaps an area identified as rebel-controlled, but with different azimuths.

    The result of this is that there remain many open questions and all judgments about who fired are probabilities judgments. More field work is needed and the Syrian President said in an interview on the 17th that UN inspectors have been invited back to Syria.

    You can find both reports cited here:
    http://canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/58068
    or here http://www.kforcegov.com/Solutions/IAO/NightWatch/NightWatch_13000200.aspx (the second one)

    ReplyDelete
  6. There is a strong hint that Russia will shortly announce that the BM-14 rockets were exported to Egypt, Yemen, and Libya, but not Syria. This will be part of the case the the Syrian Government was not responsible.

    As regards the 300mm+ rocket, it does not appear to be a standard inventory item for any nation. That said, it, or at least similar rockets, seem very likely to have been fired by SAA in conventional battles - but only sparingly and on at least two occasions with a HE warhead (one exploded, one did not)

    sasa wawa - owner of this blog - thinks almost all instances of the 300mm+ missile were conventional attacks (correct me if I'm wrong)

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    Replies
    1. Charles, not quite.

      (1) Russian government and experts have had no problems confirming that M-14 rocket munitions and the BM-14 multiple rocket launcher platforms were sold to Syria - in 1967-1969. However, no chemical warheads were ever provided to Syria or to any other nation.

      (2) By the time Soviet Union was selling BM-14s to Syria and others, it was itself decommissioning these outdated systems and switching over to BM-21 "Grad" platforms. Different rockets - 122mm - were designed for the new weapons system.

      (3) Syria completed its own transition to BM-21 "Grad" by 1990. BM-14s were decommissioned and likely utilized into scrap. None remained in active use - even if some had been stored. By the time the transition was completed, Syria's BM-14 weapons platform was already 21-23 years old, outdated, and the munitions (M-14) were nearing about halfway through their life expectancy (for the newer BM-21 "Grad" munitions, life expectancy is approximately 40 years, add to that the dry Syrian climate, and the M-14 probably had the same life expectancy as the newer, better shells).

      (3) Nor would there have been a reason for Soviet Union to supply Syria with CW warheads for its M-14 arsenal. The earliest estimates (US) put the beginning of the Syrian CW program somewhere in mid 1980s. Israelis are on the record saying that Syria had zero CW capability in 1989. Likely, no serious CW development/manufacturing began until 1990. Weaponization would have occurred sometime in the 1990s. Syria is clean on CW's up until approximately 1990. It would have had no use for M-14-S chemical warheads, nor would Soviet Union have sold them any (at least very unlikely).

      (4) Any CW weaponization of multiple rocket launch systems would have been done with the 122mm BM-21 "Grad" systems. I can't imagine the Syrian army digging through their stockpiles and fashioning CW warheads on outdated M-14 munitions.

      (5) For the record, and to make sure we are on the same page, the markings "4-67-179" on the M-14 shell found by the UN investigators have been clarified by Russian military experts to mean: "4th batch", "year 1967", "factory 179". Sibselmash, the Soviet factory that manufactured them, was only engaged in production of rocket shells - it had no CW component.

      (6) By August 21, 2013, the M-14 shell found by the UN investigators would have been 46 years old - past its reasonable life expectancy. First, it is very unlikely it could have even been fired - it would have either exploded in situ or remained dormant. Second, Syria does not have any weapons platforms in active use that can fire M-14 shells. I do not recall reports of any M-14 shells previously discovered in the two years of the conflict. This is probably because they don't work anymore.

      (7) The last known wartime use of M-14 shells and BM-14 platforms was in Algeria in 1993 - 20 years ago.

      (8) Why use M-14 shells in Moadamiya and UMLACAS elsewhere? M-14-S shells (if that is what the shell was - see next point) carry only up to 2.4 kg of sarin, while the UMLACA is estimated to carry up to 60kg. Makes little sense.

      (9) M-14-S, the CW variant of the M-14 munitions, is 1050mm in length, together with the warhead. The explosive version is 1086mm and the WP version is 1051mm. The difference is in the warhead. But the warhead is never found. It was not at the site of the impact.

      Hope this helps.

      Delete
    2. If you look at the actual pic the numbers very CLEARLY read "4-97-179".

      So there goes that theory.

      http://siberiantimes.com/PICTURES/OTHERS/Sibselmash-factory/inside%20serial%20number.jpg

      Delete
    3. "clarified by Russian military experts" - no, just a Russian Brown Moses aka paid internet warrior w an agenda.

      Delete
    4. Dear Anonymous:

      (1) You are looking at the wrong engraving. Pay attention to the engraving next to the electrical plate. The full engraving reads: "Г ИШ4 25-67-179К".

      (2) Since you are linking an image from Siberian Times, allow me to link the full article, which you fail to include: http://siberiantimes.com/other/others/news/chemical-weapon-propulsion-unit-on-syrian-missile-made-in-siberia-says-russian-expert/
      The article names its own expert, Ruslan Pukhov, director of Russia's Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies. Make your own conclusions.

      (3) It is highly unlikely Sibselmash would continue in 1997 to produce M-14 missiles which had long been decommissioned (starting in early 1962). BM-14 had long been done away with by that point. Even Syria switched over to BM-21 "Grad" by 1990.

      (4) "Russian Brown Moses" - I'll leave that to Mr. Higgins to respond. I am not sure he would be appreciative of your allegations.

      The end.
      Gleb Bazov
      Toronto, Ontario

      Delete
    5. Dear Anonymous:

      (1) You are looking at the wrong engraving. Pay attention to the engraving next to the electrical plate. The full engraving reads: "Г ИШ4 25-67-179К".

      (2) Since you are linking an image from Siberian Times, allow me to link the full article, which you fail to include: http://siberiantimes.com/other/others/news/chemical-weapon-propulsion-unit-on-syrian-missile-made-in-siberia-says-russian-expert/
      The article names its own expert, Ruslan Pukhov, director of Russia's Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies. Make your own conclusions.

      (3) It is highly unlikely Sibselmash would continue in 1997 to produce M-14 missiles which had long been decommissioned (starting in early 1962). BM-14 had long been done away with by that point. Even Syria switched over to BM-21 "Grad" by 1990.

      (4) "Russian Brown Moses" - I'll leave that to Mr. Higgins to respond. I am not sure he would be appreciative of your allegations.

      The end.
      Gleb Bazov
      Toronto, Ontario

      Delete
    6. But his analysis cites the "4-67-179" which is not the electrical plate engraving, if he was infact refering to the engraving nearer to the electriacl plate, then why not refer to it as "Г ИШ4 25-67-179К" in his "analysis". Seems deliberately obfuscatory.

      Delete
    7. Dear Anonymous, you suggestion of deliberate obfuscation is just plain silly. Your confusion arises because:

      (a) you can only read in English (am I correct?) and the English-language articles don't appear to mention the full engraving, probably to keep text consistent;

      (b) I was citing to siberiantimes, which you had linked to originally, for the sake of convenience, rather than to another report on point.

      Here is a Russian-language news piece from Itar-Tass, a venerable (probably the oldest) Russian news agency, an analogue to AP, etc.:

      http://www.itar-tass.com/c11/878767.html

      I'll quote the entire Russian text, you can use google translate. Note the engraving we are discussing mentioned mid-text:

      "
      ООН, 16 сентября. /Корр. ИТАР-ТАСС Олег Зеленин/. Один из выпущенных по пригороду Дамаска снарядов напоминает снаряд М-14 советского производства. К такому выводу пришли инспекторы ООН, расследовавшие совершенную в этом районе химическую атаку. Боеприпас, обнаруженный на месте инцидента, "по внешним данным и измерениям соответствует характеристикам одного из вариантов исполнения артиллерийского снаряда М-14 с оригинальной или импровизированной боеголовкой", - отмечается в докладе экспертов.

      В приложении к докладу есть фотографии снаряда, на одной из которых ясно различима маркировка на кириллице "Г ИШ 4 25 - 6 7 - 179 К". По данным инспекторов, он разорвался в предместье Дамаска Моадамии.

      В окрестностях Гуты были найдены и другие разорвавшиеся боеприпасы, которые могли быть как кустарного, так и серийного производства.

      140-миллиметровые снаряды М-14 были разработаны для реактивной системы залпового огня /РСЗО/ РПУ-14, поступившей на вооружение в 1956 году. Снаряд М-14 может быть оснащен как осколочно-фугасным, так и химическим боезарядом или боеголовкой с белым фосфором.

      С середины 1960-х годов на смену этой установке на вооружение Советской армии начала поступать более современная РСЗО БМ-21 "Град". По состоянию на 2010 год, РПУ-14 оставалась на вооружении ряда стран, в том числе Афганистана, Алжира, Египта и Йемена. В Сирию подобные установки поставлялись с 1967 по 1969 годы и в настоящее время сняты с вооружения."

      If I have the inclination, I will try to find an English-language article for you as well, one that links Pukhov's words as well (he is not the only expert who commented on the subject). But, don't bet on it. Perhaps if you tell me your name? Quid-pro-quo, wait do you say? Good luck.

      Delete
  7. And, as a final matter, consider this timeline:

    production of BM-14 Multiple Rocket Launcher:
    (data from Russian Wiki page - http://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%91%D0%9C-14
    English-language one is incomplete)

    - development of vehicle and munitions started in 1947
    - BM-14 and M14 variants adopted for military use in Soviet Union on November 25, 1952
    - 200 BM-14 sold to Syria in 1967-1969
    - replacement with more modern BM-21 "Grad" starts in mid-1960s - Soviet Union ultimately decommissions all BM-14
    - Syria decommissions BM-14 by 1990

    Warheads:
    chemical (MS-14), smoke (M-14D) or high-explosive fragmentation (M-14-OF) warheads

    According to The Military Balance 2010 / The International Institute for Strategic Studies. — London: Routledge, 2010. — 488 p. — ISBN 978-1857435575:

    - 200 BM-14 were delivered by Soviet Union to Syria in 1961-1962
    - By 1990, Syria decommissions all BM-14 from military use, replacing them primarily with BM-21 "Grad"

    According to Military Balance, the following countries continue to retain BM-14 in active service:

    Algeria: 48 BM-14 in 2010
    Aghanistan, Vietnam, Congo, Cuba: "some" remain in use by 2010
    Egypt: 32 BM-14 in 2010
    Yemen: 14 BM-14 in 2010
    Cambodia: 20 BM-14 in 2010
    Indonesia: 12 BM-14 in 2010

    And now, the chemical weapons timeline:

    - Syria states it started its CW program in 1990
    - US asserts it started it in mid-1980s
    - Israel stated in 1989 that Syria had only the "potential for chemical warfare, but not more than that".
    (all Wiki)

    It is more likely than not that Syria never had reason to develop a CW warhead for M-14, as BM-14 was decommissioned by 1990. Whatever CW warheads for multiple-launch platforms were developed, BM-21 "Grad" platform would have been used.

    And there is also no real possibility that USSR would have sold M-14 CW variants to Syria. First, it's not clear USSR would have had any such munitions by mid-1980s - BM-14s would have been decommissioned by then. Second, USSR is subject to OPSCW, so this would have been a violation of the treaty. Third, if USSR is selling chemical weapons to Syria, why would Syria need to invest so much effort into building its own chemical weapons program?


    BM-21 "Grad" rockets are 122mm caliber. There is no feasible way to fit a CW warhead from 122mm caliber rocket onto a 140mm rocket. It would have had to be an improvised warhead. But why? If Syria already has CW capability, would it not use its existing arsenal? (Of course, obfuscation could have been the goal, but sounds like a lot of effort and dollars for a very small military advantage (even 3000 deaths pale in comparison to the toll of violence on Syria)). Psychological warfare? Has not stopped the opposition in the least, only emboldened it.

    There is no explanation for why an M-14 munition would have been used. No rational explanation, that is.

    And then we come full circle to UMLACAs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gleb,

      Thank you for the new evidence and detailed analysis.

      I think my review of the UN Report already gives a very good explanation of the M14 findings. You may read it here: http://whoghouta.blogspot.co.il/2013/09/the-un-report.html
      It is very clear that the M14 was a conventional weapon, and your analysis of their chemical program timeline only strengthens this position.

      As you can read in the report, since we have trajectories in two locations in Zamalka, I believe they are reliable. However, they point at a completely different location than what the UN and HRW report. So far, no one was able to explain the source of this discrepancy.

      Delete
    2. Charles - Yes, all UMLACA uses before Zamalka were of a conventional or White Phosphorus warhead.

      Delete
    3. Sasa, no doubt your review provides a good explanation. It was not my intention to overshadow, merely to supplement and assist. My own analysis is elsewhere.

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    4. Of course. I didn't think you were trying to overshadow it. You brought some very interesting evidence which definitely raises the probability that the rocket body was planted.
      At this point I still prefer the explanation that this was a conventional Syrian Army attack, but let's see what new evidence comes in.

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    5. Sasa, you may be interested in this. The following (my post on facebook) is not munitions-oriented per se, but it narrows the potential sources of the chemical weapons. Assad appears to be taking the risky approach of denying that CW (if used by the rebels) could have come from plundered Syrian arsenals. Only one option left then for Assad - CW must have come from abroad.

      #Syria #Assad #CW - Al Assad is no dummy. Perhaps unfortunately, he is as intelligent as you would expect a sociopath to be. In the interview cited below he writes off the possibility that Syrian CW arsenal fell into the hands of the opposition, eliminating one of the possible answers to the indictment that the Syrian army used CW in an attack on Ghouta, Damascus. What this says to me is that al Assad is either (1) recklessly telling the truth, unconcerned with limiting his avenues for political maneuvering, or, more likely (2) is feeling very bullish on the theory that opposition obtained CW weapons from abroad. More like al Assad to be calculating, rather than reckless, unless, of course, he is feeling overly emboldened by Russian support. Or maybe he is a dummy?

      Anyways, here is his statement:

      "He said the chemical weapons were stored "under special conditions to prevent any terrorist for other destructive forces from tampering with them, that is, destructive forces that could come from other countries."

      "So there is nothing to worry about. The chemical weapons in Syria are in a safe place that is secure and under the control of the Syrian army.""

      Read more: http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2013_09_23/Assad-slams-Western-powers-on-UN-draft-resolution-on-Syria-4337/

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    6. Thanks for this. Will definitely come in handy in the final analysis.

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  8. This Syrian General who defected months ago says regime has used chemical weapons 34 times over the course of the rebellion.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10325193/Syria-Bashar-al-Assad-ordered-me-to-gas-people-but-I-could-not-do-it.html

    This is not the first time he has said this. He was interviewed months ago but it didn’t get any notice in the Western press. Given he defected prior to April (I think) he doesn’t have any first hand knowledge of the August 21st attack.

    Overall how much credibility does he have? If he is credible how much less surprise should we have that chemical weapons where used by the regime on August 21st?

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    1. Thank you. I have noticed this report earlier and will analyze it in a future post.
      So far I found:
      - On his facebook page he has a picture where he seems about 20 years younger, and wearing Amid Insignia (Brig. General). https://www.facebook.com/AlmydAlrknAlmjazZahrAlsakt
      - I did not find any evidence he was a chemical officer.
      - His reports on chemical attacks do not match known details.
      So I currently find it unlikely that he was in active service during the civil war. Looks more like he's using his past military rank to promote an agenda, but I'll keep investigating.

      Would be great if you help out and collect more evidence. Thanks!

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    2. Here is his first interview after defection in April:
      Al-Arabiya TV (Dubai/Saudi Arabia) - April 27, 2013
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jB_43l9Hb6c

      He claimed, that chemical attack in Khan al-Assal on 19 March 2013 was carried out by SAA. I cant say, if this statement is true or false, but it can be a key for judging of his credibility.

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  9. Some info that might be useful::See this Video: ([ 9Al-Arabiya TV (Dubai/Saudi Arabia) - April 27, 2013] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jB_43l9Hb6c&feature=share
    NOT TO MINUS THE POSIBILITY THAT ASSAD WOULD NOT USE CHEM ON HIS PEOPLE, but it is Also odd General Zaher's on video above, didnt mention this only after he lost his promotion, stating he hid the chemical weapon he refused to use, and that him and "USA" know the locations of the chemical stockpiles bashar has ...the strange part he said he defected because he refused to use, but then in this article when he was interviewed by aljazeera he didnt mention what he is saying on video : General Zaher al-Saket, the former head of the chemical warfare administration in the Syrian Army’s 5th Division, who defected last month, told Al Jazeera he was one of the candidates set to be promoted to Unit 451. But the regime wanted to make sure all those handling chemical weapons were loyal to the regime, so "they chose Colonel Mohammad Ali Wannous, because he was an Alawite", Saket said. (article dated: [Last Modified: 23 May 2013 17:56] http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/05/2013523155639566436.html

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  10. Lack of stabilizers does not automatically mean that it's "kitchen made" sarin - read some UN reports about Iraq's WMD programs especially about poor quality of Sarin, pouring shells...or just visit brown moses blog :D:

    "Sarin could be mixed on-site and poured into empty shells/rounds or munitions could be designed to mix two different components in flight. "

    http://brown-moses.blogspot.cz/2013/08/chemical-weapon-specialists-talk-sarin.html

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    1. I referred in my UN report to the option of mixing in-flight (binary weapon). I think this is way beyond the capabilities of the UMLACA.
      Mixing on-site seems like a risky thing to do and I'm not sure what would be the motivation to do it, but I guess it's a possibility.
      There is more evidence to support it is not military grade. I'll publish it in a later report, and would love to get your feedback.
      Thanks!

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    2. Sasa, as well as considering the US-developed binary CW concept, which, as you correctly indicate is beyond the capabilities of the UMLACA (it would require two containers, a mechanism for mixing, strict temperature control, etc), consider also the Iraqi binary CW concept, which:

      (a) does not require mixing in-flight;
      (b) mixing is done immediately (well, relatively immediately) prior to launch;
      (c) is far less dangerous than on-site mixing, as a result - provided of course the UMLACA can withstand corrosion by sarin prior to being launched;
      (d) would not require much expertise.

      If the UMLACA are stored with one of the two components: methylphosphoryldifluoride or isopropanol, and the second one is added and then the missile is sealed, then it could well be used as an Iraqi-style binary CW weapon.

      Then consider the mysterious opening/hose/vent on the side of the UMLACA warhead.

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    3. Gleb,
      Good point. I'll add it to a future report.
      Thanks!

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  11. I am interested in the evidence suggesting that the rebels have access to hundreds of kilograms of Sarin, because I am extremely skeptical of this. Based on my background in chemistry, I can't think of a feasible way for rebels to manufacture Sarin themselves.

    I'll reserve further comments until I see what you have to say. Keep up the good work!

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    1. DDTea, here is an excerpt from OPCW's note on "nerve agents", with specific referefence to sarin:




      "In 1991 Iraq declared to the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) a different binary munitions concept. According to this the munitions were stored containing one component. Shortly before use the munitions were opened and the second component was added. Thus the reaction began even before the munitions were launched."
      http://www.opcw.org/about-chemical-weapons/types-of-chemical-agent/nerve-agents/

      Let us consider that concept for a second. Iraq's binary CW munitions are well known and have been analyzed and examined. Accordingly:

      (1) the process of weaponization can take place in situ - inside the warhead itself;

      (2) if the warhead can be used as a sufficiently "controlled environment" then it cannot be that hard to manufacture sarin, provided components: Sarin (GB-2): methylphosphoryldifluoride (DF) + isopropanol, are available.

      It is also known that the stored Iraqi CW (sarin in particular) were of relatively low quality and contained impurities. I don't know of similar assessment of the Iraqi binary process and the resulting sarin, but same may well apply.

      There is no evidence, as far as I can tell, with respect to the quality and purity of the sarin used (although there is some vague reference to stabilizers - which, according to some expert opinions, may not be what they appear).

      In reality, however, all that matters is only if we assume that the Syrian opposition (a) does not have the necessary expertise (not that obvious - the original core of the FSA is made up of defecting Syrian army personnel)) and (b) are the only anti-Syrian actors on the ground that could have been responsible for CW manufacture and use.

      If we consider the possibility that others are involved - and information regarding Saudi intelligence service involvement abounds - then whether or not the Syrian opposition is itself capable of manufacturing sarin is not material.

      There are also plenty of reports suggestive of potenential transfers of chemicals or CW to rebels. If you require, I will look up the links.

      The only question that remains is do we dismiss all this other information or do we consider it as carefully as we have been considering the Syrian government's responsibility for CW use.

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    2. I'm more than willing to consider the evidence, which is why I'm waiting. But to be clear, the DF + Isopropanol reaction is only the last step in Sarin synthesis. That's the easy part.

      DF is not a readily available chemical. Its only use is in nerve agent synthesis and is itself acutely toxic (less so than Sarin, but still toxic enough to kill). Being the direct, binary precursor to Sarin, it's a controlled chemical per the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention. So really, when I'm referring to the technical and logistical challenges of manufacturing Sarin, I'm referring to the challenges of manufacturing DF (didn't want to be pedantic, but I guess this detail is important).

      Again, let's see what sasa wawa has to say first.

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    3. DDTea, the detail you indicate is important and must be mentioned. Better to be pendantic, than to rush to conclusions. I, for my part, rushed my own post - I do now recall researching the details you indicate, and should have remembered them before posting. My mind was otherwise occupied, unfortunately. Lesson learned - will rush less next time.

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  12. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/gas-missiles-were-not-sold-to-syria-8831792.html

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