Dec 2, 2013

Response to New Brown Moses Theory

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

In his latest blog post, Brown Moses has updated two key points in his analysis of the August 21st attack:

  1. Following the recent UMLACA video, and after consulting with warhead expert Richard Lloyd, he estimates the UMLACA range at 2.5 km, which is consistent with our findings.
    Although Brown Moses has never officially claimed a longer range, his original analysis assumed a range of 6-8 km to army sites (more details here). 
  2. He decided to replace his own trajectory analysis (pointing North) with those reported by the UN and Al Jazeera (West to North-West).

These updates are substantial in two aspects:

  1. So far the WhoGhouta blog was the only source to claim the 2.5 km range. Having a warhead expert and the leading blogger on Syria issue a similar estimate lends much-needed credibility to this number.
  2. This officially refutes the HRW "trajectory intersection" theory (also published in the NY Times), which was probably the main rationale for regime culpability in Western public opinion.

While those of us who know the details, have long ignored this theory, we should remember the mainstream understanding is still heavily based on this kind of discredited evidence. So whether or not Brown Moses' updates indicate opposition culpability (he argues they do not), it is important that HRW and the Times be aware of these developments, and be allowed to correct their reports. If anyone has relevant connections, feel free to use them and let us know their response. Ideally, this would be done by Brown Moses himself.
Just to clarify: Brown Moses has never supported this theory, and based his support of government culpability on his (much more reliable) analysis of the munitions used.

As to the analysis itself, I believe it suffers from two weak points:


Brown Moses decided to replace his own trajectory analysis with those reported by the UN and Al Jazeera, which are both highly unreliable:

  1. UN Trajectory - Normally, a UN report would always be the preferable source of information when available, but in this case their error is so obvious and easy to verify that it can't be used. Any theory relying on the UN azimuth must explain why this analysis of impact site 1 is wrong. Such strong evidence cannot be simply ignored.
  2. Al Jazeera trajectories - Unlike the UN, Al-Jazeera are not a reliable source for the Syrian conflict. They are owned by the government of Qatar and have shown strong pro-opposition bias. Since they don't provide any evidence on how the azimuths were calculated we cannot use their data.
    An example of their low standards is evident when they claim a 5-10 km range for the UMLACA - a number which they do not explain, we know to be wrong, and seems to have been arbitrarily chosen so it matches army positions.
We have three strong indications of a northern source for the Zamalka attack. There is currently no other reliable evidence to support a different trajectory.

Control of Qaboun

The impression from watching the Qaboun videos is clearly of an area that is not under firm government control. Movements in open areas are done by armored vehicles, with troops mostly operating under cover.

However, an UMLACA launch is a complex operation involving two trucks and multiple people operating in the open. In all UMLACA launches documented so far we see troops comfortably operating around the launcher unprotected. It just doesn't seem to be intended for front-line operation.

More analysis on the status of Qaboun on August 21st is ongoing and will be updated here.

Update: In the comments below Amund Hesbol analyzed news reports from Qaboun to build a map of the front line. It is still work in progress, but seems to indicate the positions suggest by Brown Moses are under rebel control.

Update 2: Charles Wood prepared a map of ranges from the launch location proposed by Brown Moses. It indicates that the farthest impact sites may be beyond UMLACA range. However, it should be noted that except for sites marked UN-1 and UN-2, these were reported to HRW by local activists and were not independently verified.

Update 3: Charles Wood went through numerous videos from this channel, and concluded the following.
"With absolute certainty all Government positions between Fares al Khouri in Jobar and 6th Tishreen South of Qabon were under sustained insurgent attack in the lead-up to August 21 and afterwards. By sustained attack, I include mortaring and sniping from positions overlooking the army base. e.g. sniping"

Last, the new theory doesn't explain why the government chose to use low quality sarin and a low-quality chemical weapon instead of the weapons they acquired and tested over the many years of their chemical program.

Conclusion: While Brown Moses' new theory addresses the UMLACA range problem, it raises other issues which make it an unlikely explanation of the August 21st attack.


  1. Moses's confidence level has dropped under plinth.

  2. For further information I've generated an image centred on one of the UN sites that we know for certain.

    It shows in yellow locations 1500-2400m from impact which is based on potential maximum range and possible minimum range given tactical considerations.

    The image shows blue locations 2400-3000m from impact. These are chosen to satisfy the "but what if" people.

    There is a pink a 'sweet-spot' of ranges 1800-2200 from impact that nicely bracket our known range.

    Notable in this view is that Qaboun is almost all eliminated in even the most optimistic range scenario. In particular the Syronics factory is not plausible as a launching point - nor are any other possible factories in Qaboun.

  3. Just to reprise my update on the Geolocation page.

    The only eyewitness reports I am aware of (and these are hearsay) claim that four 122mm Grad missiles were fired from the "Telecommunications Factory" in Qaboun and from Baghdad Bridge far to the North-East. Both at 2:20am.

    Qaboun is out of range and far more out of range is Baghdad Bridge.

    The report was by the Syria Support Group, a US agency tasked with providing logistical support to the FSA and almost certainly part-time CIA . (August 21 - i.e. the same day)

    The Telecommunications Factory factoid was added by

    Given we have fake reporting by an obvious CIA front - completely fake in technical detail - then what credence are there for new reports that later pop up confirming part or all of the cover story?

    A very simple explanation is that people have been told to repeat some of the CIA lie in the run up to a US attack.

    1. good stuff. i'll add it later. thanks charles!

    2. The CIA, Military, Intelligence Agencies, State Department, etc call efforts like this "deception operations". To these folks its legal to lie/fabricate/spin/twist the truth if it allows you to reach your tactical or strategic goal. Deception is an art form. Its also a very calculated and accepted way to conduct business for agencies such as these, both US and foreign, and is considered part of the game. Being skeptical, on our part, is also advisable and part of the game when your trying to figure out what the big boys are really up to.

    3. They've been in the deception and disinformation business since the dawn of time.

      They use many different methods. It used to be they subverted journalists to spread their message. These days they also use influential bloggers to channel the required story.

  4. Hm, good point, but .... how can we use then CIA reports as "supporting" proves (refering to the maturity of chemical programs) at the same time?

    1. Indeed a problematic source, but it was not the only one used in that aspect.

    2. Okey, I forgot French Intelligence Report and by the way - what the sentences "Syria’s program is active for over 30 years with access to current technology, while Iraq was a 10 year program that ended 20 years ago." shoud say? any rough comparison of invested money, experts involved? 10 year program? Really? isnt it the same biased approach for which Brown Moses is widely criticized here?

    3. Although it's not bullet-proof, I think it's a relevant comparison. It's a secret program so we have to speculate with whatever info we have.
      In any case, the claim that the Syrian program could not afford producing low-quality chemicals since they're intended for long term storage is quite strong.

  5. There is a couple of Anna News videos that I've revisited now that we've firmly established the range of the small Volcano. A number of them show the operation in Jobar which is just north of a 285 degree trajectory from Zamalka. The SAA/NDF try to press the militants south and away from the highway - the stated aim is to provide a safe routes from central Damascus. Not a huge success, since they are in the same spot in august as they are in october. What's interesting is where the militants are pressed back to in these vids. They must be very close to a launch position on the 285 azimuth. I'm not suggesting that militants fired the rockets from there, but it would be a very unlikely place for the SAA to place their rocket artillery.

    I've made a map to illustrate the situation in Jobar as witnessed by Anna News/Press TV. (With good help from the people who geolocated the Anna material)
    Here it is.

    Press TV report from August 7, Jobar

    Pressing the militants part 1 Fares Al-Khouri street.

    Pressing the militants part 2 Fares Al-Khouri street.

    1. Amund,

      For some reason I can't view your map. I've tried different browsers and operating systems.

      Could you drop the image on ? It seems to work well, though the image life is only 6 months.

    2. Sure!
      I realise now it could be improved with zones showing who controls what, but it will have to do for now.

    3. Thanks for that.

      The 285 degrees seems a bit odd? I think sasa wawa has excluded that as an error by the UN?

      Given the many different zones of control maps, the only thing they seem to have in common is that 6th Tishreen is listed as contested (Government possession) from the cloverleaf with Fares al Khouri up to somewhere well before the next cloverleaf East.

      The territory either side of 6th Tishreen is mostly Government. Their zone of control is widest to the west and includes the Syronics factory in Qaboun - North of 6th Tishreen.

      FYI - I've started using an annulus/arc extension to google maps. It's a bit fiddly to use - you have to move the map to your desired centre and then run the setup section. Basically you can give it an angular span and a min and max range and it will colour it in.


    4. It is an error by the UN, but it's still perceived as factual evidence. It seems to me that the range claim - once corrected, cancels out the azimuth claim. It will be interesting to see the final report later in december - I'm pretty sure they will repeat the same data, but perhaps in a less cocksure way.

      All things to do with geomapping is worth looking into. Will check out the magic rings.

    5. With the rings thing - it seems to be an online function that gets called?

      I've found the only reliable way to centre the map is type in the coordinates in the search box. There may be some other way as well? But it doesn't seem to centre on placemarks,

    6. Great work guys - I'm following intently.

      @Amund - tried responding to you over at Brown Moses' Blog but my posts are being censored at the minute as I had some message about "Your post content is being reviewed" or something like that. Not sure what the problem is but I won't disrupt this investigation any further. Just wanted to give you a heads up.

    7. @ Jim,

      That'd be my fault. I asked a couple of questions pretty much out of the conclusions of this post and it seems to have annoyed Higgins, so he deleted them and now has put moderation on.

    8. Amund - I added your image to the post. Keep us updated on new developments. Thank you!

    9. Sasa - thanks! It may be obvious for us that the 285 azimuth is wrong, but its worth the effort to present convincing evidence. I think one key to interpreting the Anna News-videos lies in understanding the objective of the SAA, as stated by themselves: "push the militants away from the highways". They are trying to make buffer zones around fighting areas. It would be really useful to look through all the Anna material from August 2013 to reconstruct a complete map of operations. I know Eliot is going through the same material at the moment, but the more the merrier. The Anna News team had 10 professional HD cameras in key positions covering the entire (according to them) army operation in east Damascus on August 22. These cameras doesn't lie, but Marat Musin is not entirely truthful when he states that the rocket CW-attack could not have taken place - because there is no smoke trails to be seen. Surely he knew at the time that the attacks took place in the nighttime.

      Jim, your reply has made it through censorship at the BM-blog. It would be good if you also posted it on the Liwa Al-Islam page from September, so everyone can follow the arguments. One thing we can agree on is that the videos are still interesting, and may hold key information.

    10. I also recommend you share any ANNA findings here:

    11. Exactly. It looks like Eliot is hard at work worming his way through Anna-vids. Great!

  6. Here is another map I made showing the ranges in the NorthWest Quadrant from a known UN missile site.

    I have included a rough approximation of the whoghouta estimated launch area as a pink sector. I've also added range markers.

  7. Nice! Now, what do we know about who controlled the pink sector on August 21? (Not a rhetorical question, BTW)

  8. Here is a map based on the Brown Moses Blog. I have placed red markers in the same place as shown on the blog and generated a synthetic yellow 'centroid' to generate range arcs.

    The Brown Moses blog is wrong when he writes the range to the UN missiles. He has seriously underestimated the actual ranges. Some of the missile strike locations are nearly 3000m away.

    I can supply kml files for the missile strikes if anyone is interested in replicating the measurements.

    1. I am not surprised it seems that BM uses the same narrative as the NY times article that was written in a Rush job in order to justify the UN report.

  9. July 30 2013 - Insurgents bombarding the armoured vehicle depot in Ghouta with some type of heavy weapon.

    33°32'01.74" N 36°20'11.15" E

  10. Situation allegedly on August 30 -

    The green ones - syrian army?
    The red ones - insurgents?

    btw: Laptop - Acer :D

    1. Very interesting! Anyone recognizes the area?


    3. thanks!
      so south of jobar. this area is marked as government-controlled.

    4. There are many different maps of Government control and many different dates.

      The consensus seems to be that West of that anonymous North/South road in the image is Government territory, while East of it is contested.

      Also of note is that 6th Tishreen south of Qabon is generally listed as Government / contested, and at least one map shows the Hafez Al Assad Souther Bypass as Government controlled / contested. That's the big diagonal Northeast/Southwest road that joins 6th Tishreen at the cloverleaf.

      The Southern bypass also happens to pass right through potential launch sites for August 21.

  11. The North/South road is probably named Karm Al-Joura street, judging by the mercurial naming of other streets in Damascus. Another reason not to rent a car on your next vacation, jihad tourists.

  12. For your viewing delectation, the following site has a large number of insurgent videos from East Ghouta area for the past six months to year, in particular Qabon and Jobar feature and there are videos of attacks on Government positions in the 6th Tishreen, Kenzi road, and Fares al Khouri St area.

    With absolute certainty all Government positions between Fares al Khouri in Jobar and 6th Tishreen South of Qabon were under sustained insurgent attack in the lead-up to August 21 and afterwards. By sustained attack, I include mortaring and sniping from positions overlooking the army base. e.g. sniping (Published July 25)

    1. added it. thanks!
      do you have any idea what's the situation at night? could there be long periods where the SAA can work uninterrupted?

    2. There is at least one video of insurgents firing missiles at night into the Ghouta region on or around August 21.

      الصواريخ التي تطلق من الواحدات الخاصة في حي القابون بدمشق باتجاه لغوطة الشرقية

      "Rockets fired from special units in Kaboun neighborhood in Damascus toward East Gouta" - 'Special Units' meaning special insurgent units.

    3. That actually refers to the Special Forces HQ in Qaboun (33.547739° 36.334040°).

      This video shows 2 volcanoes launched from there. I initially hesitated to identify it as a volcano since resolution is too low to determine shape, but now we’ve seen enough to identify it by sound, burn time, and smoke trail pattern.

      As far as I could determine, the base seems to be under government control and surrounded by opposition forces.

      Videos describing rebel attacks on the base: 21-jul claimed attack on base gate. Flags indicate government control. 20-jul attack on the base 25-jul attack on the base 10-sep attack on the base

      Videos showing government attacks around the base: 24-aug attack on minaret (33.541408°, 36.330256°) by ‘assad gangs’ 28-aug shells on qaboun 26-aug shelling near special forces HQ 26-aug. similar video. 27-aug ‘assad gangs’ attack the minaret and buildings
      Some of these attacks are claimed to come from Mt. Qasioun.

    4. Assuming the Volcano is based on the 122mm Grad then they will have the same smoke density, burn time, and sound signature. The only difference will be acceleration.

      I haven't seen wikimapia or any of the conflict maps showing the Special Forces base as Government occupied - though they do show the armoured depot off Kenzi as Government occupied.

    5. acloserlookonsyria has extensive discussion on the special forces site and rockets from it. This may clarify or obfuscate :-),_August_21,_2013/Rocket_attack#Qaboun_rocket_lauches

    6. I think most maps don't go into the details of who controls what part of contested areas. Especially as it changes often.

      The videos seem pretty clear that the HQ is government controlled. If the opposition had taken it, I'm sure they would have bragged about it.

    7. Well at least the location is not suspected as being the source of the Zamalka rockets. Not only because of range, but because the NYT (using leaked US Government info) places the launch site at the Syronics factory (black triangle, not red circle of unknown provenance)

      Also of interest is the wildly optimistic Ziad map which basically shows all arterial roads in Ghouta as being under Government control/contested on August 16. I guess that means for all values of Government control = armoured tank platoons with infantry support able to pass through with some risk.

    8. If I were trying to find a way to blame the government, I would choose this as the most likely launch site.
      It would require ignoring that the azimuths are off by 30 degrees, the range is 4 km, the sarin is low quality, and there is no reasonable motive, but it's more reasonable than the other regime-did-it theories currently offered.

    9. Asides from this discussion, which serious player has fingered the Special Forces HQ as launch location?

      We have in the official players -

      Syrian Support Group: Syronics and Baghdad Bridge
      NYT: Syronics


      Brown Moses: Armoured Compound south of Kenzi
      acloserlookonSyria: Cloverleaf intersection Southern Bypass, 6th Tishreen (one of several guesses)
      whoghouta: Irbin fields south of cloverleaf.

    10. Considering that it is has now become an established fact (after you were the very first person to properly calculate the distance) that the range of the Volcano was around 2.5 km so I'd be really interested in listening to the arguments of those who would like to make that 2.5 km become 4 km. Then again there has been some bizarre "Assad done it" conspiracies so let's not speak too soon.

    11. I forgot to add the political dilettantes

      Al-Jazeera: Mt Qaboun and or other locations in the hills.
      HRW: Mt Qaboun

      Actually, NYT and Syrian Support Group could be in that class as well, but they at least have US Government provided disinformation.

      "It may be disinformation, but it's OUR disinformation"

    12. Copying my comment from this discussion
      which analyzes this video:

      I originally thought this was a launch from Barzeh, since it looked to come from the base of the mountain.
      However, based on the time delay, your azimuth to the towers, and the view of the mountains, i believe the camera is at 33.547, 36.34 initially pointing at azimuth 285.
      Going 500 m on that trajectory gives the SAA Special Forces HQ (33.548, 36.334), from which we already have an UMLACA launch here just a day later:

      Incidentally, the cameraman in the first (24-Aug) video actually says "SS missile attack on Jobar, from the direction of the Special Forces in Qaboun".
      The distance from launch site to impact site (beyond the water towers) is 1.8-1.9 km, as we're used to seeing.
      My understanding is that the HQ is under government control and surrounded by rebels.

    13. That post is confusing sasa as following that link I see no comment from you?

    14. You're right. It was spam filtered. Reposted now.

    15. I'm new to this particular video which probably explains why I'm highly confused.

      I see a launch in the video going away from the camera. I then see the camera shift to a completely different azimuth with water towers that people are saying are the army base implicated by BM as the launching point for the August 21 night videos.

      The caption talks about the missile seen being launched on Jobar, but the army base is in Jobar! And the base is a completely different azimuth to the launch site and the missile in the video is going away from the camera. Plus the smoke in the later part of the video can't be related to the missile launch because it must have been there before the launch.

    16. here is my understanding of the video:
      the red lines are the two camera azimuths.

      the launch is not going away, but perpendicular.
      the water towers are indeed very near BM's claimed launch site. Interesting!
      I think the video is cut at 0:07, so the smoke could be related to that launch.

    17. "it appears at a range of 2-2.5km it would land in Jobar,"

      This is according to BM. The more likely range is 2km or just under. Why does he insist on stretching the data and the facts so they fit with his "government done it" theory?

      In the debate that I had with him over on his blog last week he asked that we accept that launch sites were actually 1km west from were they were actually seen coming from now he wants us to add another 500m onto the distance travelled by this launch?

      In a tweet he sent today he notes:

      "Syrian gov forces were in control of an area within 2.5km of the impact sites"

      So further evidence he wants us to accept a distance of 2.5km and note that he, as per the norm, decides to ignore that whilst there is a SAA base 2.5km away that it is totally surrounded by rebels. So that tweet could as easily read: "opposition forces were in control of an area within 2.5km of the impact sites"

    18. Perpendicular? Perhaps Tangential?

      Re viewing the video several times I can see that one visual interpretation is tangential - as compared to my first interpretation as 'away'.

      To confirm it's tangential requires further information not necessarily seen in this video. The break in vision between the launch and supposed splash is a problem - especially the time gap.

      Incidentally, here's a video of launches from Mezzeh airport that is labelled 122mm missiles but is more likely 107mm that shows a water tower very similar to the one attracting attention in your video

      Here are 'Grad' missiles being launched in Syria. Their signature is very similar to the the ones in your video. Are you sure your video is a Volcano rather than a 'Grad' missile?

    19. Oops - Syria 'Grad Missiles' are at

      Notice the smoke and burn time are very similar to the 122mm Volcano.

    20. I think Grad have a shorter burn time of around 1 second. You can see here at 0:30 how soon they stop burning.

      The distance to the water tower is also 1.8-1.9 km, which is a good match to a Volcano

    21. In the video I linked the missile launch at 23.7 burned out at 25.0. i.e. 1.3 seconds.

      However there are Grad missiles and Grad missiles with different lengths and burning times from the same manufacturer and different manufacturers.

      If they were shooting at the water tower, which is allegedly in Government hands, then that would have been an extreme danger-close fire mission. It also says that the vicinity of the water tower was heavily contested

    22. Further to the 1.3 second burn time. This analysis by the Egyptian armed forces of a 'typical' 122mm rocket uses a 1.67 second burn time.

      It's also a jolly good read for amateur missileers.

      It seems likely there are other variants of the motor that have different (longer) burn times and (lower) acceleration - e.g. jammer versions like the 9M519.

  13. Charles you are leading a good investigation into this affair mate. Not to take anything away from other blogs but this blog in particular has attracted some very intelligent open minded people doing some fantastic open-sourced investigating in a rather impartial, open and transparent manner, which is a first for this type of investigation.

    Whoghouta is definitely a first in this type of investigation. Just wish I could add a bit more than what I do but I know when to sit back an allow the smarter people do their thing! Keep it up guys.

    1. "a first...this type of investigation" - accidental repeat.

    2. sasa is leading the investigation. I'm just chipping in occasional factoids and speculation.

    3. Of course though I was referring to the above investigation into who controlled what. From reading your posts you were getting your teeth into the nitty gritty.

  14. One can pick up a thing or two from staring at Damascus streets from afar:
    Faris Al-Khoury was the first Syrian statesman to visit the United States and represent his country in 1945 at the inauguration of the UN.
    One of the amazing stories of the history of the United Nations is when Faris Al-Khoury sat on France's chair instead of Syria's, After a few minutes, The French representative to the UN approached Faris and asked him to leave the chair, Faris ignored the Frenchman and just looked at his watch, a couple of minutes later, the Frenchman angrily asked Faris to leave immediately, but Faris kept on ignoring the Frenchman and just staring at his watch, After 25 minutes of sitting in France's chair, Faris left the chair and said to the French representative: "You could not bare watching me sitting in your chair for a mere 25 minutes, Your country has occupied mine for more than 25 years, hasn't the time of your troops departure come yet?". It is worth noting that the process of Syria's independence started in this same UN session. (source: Wikipedia)

  15. "In late June, the French ambassador to Syria, Eric Chevallier, accompanied a convoy of 16 tons of drugs, including 40,000 units of atropine, to the Syrian border.

    Hundreds of gas masks and thousands of doses of antidote now were in the pipeline to the Damascus suburbs. They didn't arrive in time.
        As Syrian Chemical Attack Loomed, Missteps Doomed Civilians (Miscalculations by the Syrian regime, opposition groups and U.S. government left them all unprepared for the Aug. 21 gas attack)

    1. "The thunder of rockets shook them awake"

      Actually, this is a good example of pulp journalism. Gather a few facts, a lot of speculation and generate a racy narrative. Is WSJ a Murdoch paper? I know it's supposed to be respectable, but really!

      It sounds like they took the US disinformation released in late August and rehashed it for a late November attention grabber. It certainly won't win a Pulitzer.

      Disclosure: I don't read WSJ. I do read Washington Post and LA Times. They at least have some real journalists - some, not all, but some. On the downside they let Krauthammer get airtime.

  16. Hersh confirms
    See the comments of b at

  17. I've put this on the Hersh page, but it's more relevant here.

    We have video evidence that there was combat on August 20 near the power station at the West end of Kenzi

    We have video evidence the insurgents were in possession of the Industrial School literally next-door to the Army base on August 22 and defending it against SAA attack.

    "Very violent clashes in the industrial school in the neighborhood of Qaboun and attempt to thwart the infiltration of shabiha 22/08/2013"

    The obvious conclusion is that the area south of Kenzi and West of the Southern Bypass was in hot conflict between August 20 and August 22 inclusive.

    I have found no video from engagements South of the Canal that runs along the Southern edge of the industrial/military areas so it is likely that was in insurgent hands on August 21.

  18. Another possibility is that the launch location was in Republican Guard held territory around 33.5377N, 36.3436W. The ANNA videos Osimint analysed were shot from office buildings in that area and describe it as a staging area both before and after Aug. 21. It's also in your pink zone in Charles' graphic at Staging and forming-up areas imply daytime control and some level of standoff. I think you have to consider the likelihood of rocket vehicles running down the M5 or up 6th Tishreen to that cloverleaf at night and launching. Range fits, ground situation fits... it's not crazy. I don't think the UN azimuth figure is salvageable, but you can still reject that and any extended range theories and still come up with a plausible Guard-held launch location in that vicinity. More here:

    1. First time I've seen your blog. You've made a much better fist of it than most. Good on you!


      The Osmint record is analysis only of the ANNA videos. In particular they refer to "Fight for a School in Jobar" on October 16 and onwards. We know from the video I linked above that there was fighting between insurgents and Government forces in the school on August 22. The point being that Osmint is only a brief glimpse rather than a canonical record.

      The Osmint article is unclear but it appears to say 'Northward Attack' was started on September 6. Unless you are aware of another 'Northward Attack' then all data referring to it including OP1 is not relevant to August 21.

      You refer to operation splitting Zamalka and Jobar. That didn't start till August 23, so while it doesn't eliminate related keypoints OP2 and OP3 they have less value for August 21.

      OP2 and OP3 would have been established concurrent with the advance of troops. (Possibly OP2 first and OP3 later after advances?) Again they were established on the every edge of or inside a battlezone. They also reflect Amund Hesbol's chart of a broad offensive from Government positions Southwards.

      Incidentally I have videos of insurgent attacks in the Southern bypass around that time against "Shabiha" positions. It seems parts of the Southern bypass were to some extent in (shaky) Government hands around August 21.

      You have the merit of a reasonable range (finally!) but assumption of undisputed possession is highly questionable, as does the safety of the necessary supply line - I guess along 6th Tishreen - for the launchers and support trucks.

      Finally, my standard whinge is that no insurgents reported missile launches in Jobar/South Qabon despite launches from the special forces base in central Qabon being reported on the same night.

    2. Rereading the Osmint site they appear to have got their dates mixed up for "Splitting Zamalka and Jobar" They talk about preparation bombardment starting on August 23 but the actual battles they discuss occur in late September early October. I suspect they got the August date wrong?

      On the other hand this video published on August 23 by ANNA shows bombardment and an assault on August 21/22 (use captions)

      Has this been geolocated?

    3. Very interesting discussion. We need to collect all the information we know about government and rebel locations during that time, and see what makes sense.

      Bruce_R - Note that it's not enough to show there are government forces within range. They need to have a secure area where they can safely operate two trucks in the open. We have never seen an UMLACA launch from the battlefield - it's always from an army base.
      Also, in your blog you assume the Republican Guard has chemical weapons. That is very unlikely. These are strategic weapons which both Syria and the US claimed were not moved. There is also no mention from the OPCW of collecting weapons from army units.

    4. S.W. : longer comments extend below, but a couple specific points on your last comment.

      If we accept Republican Guard Div eyes-on the likeliest point of origin on the night in question as likely (which I would argue at this point), the "secure area" argument works against both government and rebel hypotheses, so it's a wash. For that matter, so does the "not that disciplined" argument: the rebel-launch hypothesis becomes one of why they would pull off perhaps the greatest special operation in history since the Trojan Horse, but never felt the urge with Syria's elite unit right there and them able to get within 500m with impunity to, you know, sarin the hell out of it instead. A plausible rebel use effectively hinges on proving there were NOT Syrian forces in strength in that area on the night in question, despite it having been confirmed they were there immediately before and after Aug. 21.

      I would also suggest that "we have never seen an UMLACA launch" under condition x" really means "we have never seen an UMLACA launch that was filmed" under condition x. Rocket artillery by its nature is meant to move fast in, fast out, and it's likely there have been lots of launches that were not filmed, because they were too risky, too fast, too dark, etc. Also, I think we need to discount any footage involving the larger, 240mm rocket-based Volcanoes. Those could have very different setup and launch characteristics, as well as range. We need to focus on just the 122mm rocket-based ones when assessing time to deploy, etc.

      I think we will need more information on what inspectors finally destroy before we assess that no weapons were moved,, and that that matters. It is plausible the creation of chemical IRAMs was in part an attempt to develop an "off-the-books" weapon in addition to the ones that were on known inventories, in an effort to increase their potential deployability. The belief that all the previously known, non-improvised chemical munitions can be accounted for in itself would not in itself rule out deployment of a chemical agent using a modified homemade rocket type by the government.

    5. Sorry for the late reply. Lost track of this.

      I think the launch location currently suspected in the field west of irbin is far enough from the Syrian forces to launch 12 rockets at night. Seems to be more like 1500m from them.

      The problem with UMLACA launches are the heavy rockets (over 130 kg). They are loaded by crane, and there always seems to be another tuck nearby. My understanding is that it's not suited for "fast in fast out" operations but more like a few hours to set up. It just doesn't make sense that the SAA would bring UMLACAs to this contested zone when it could launch advanced chemical weapons safely from a base.

      The idea of the government having an off-the-books weapon is the "double false flag" theory, which matches the evidence but makes little sense, since there was no propaganda effort by the government to implicate the opposition.

  19. Charles, the video publication dates clearly lag the action, I wouldn't read too much into them (they state in the narrative they were taken in August and "published over the following months"). OSIMINT's assessment was that the Northward attack OP (OP1) occurred "prior to late August," and the southward attack was "from Aug. 21 onward." That brackets the key date.

    Look at that Kenzi Road again, south and parallel to the 6th Tishreen highway. That was clearly the Guard Div's center axis, moving West to East. Evidence is they controlled the area to 400m out or more from that axis on either side continually through this period. That would make moving guns or rocket vehicles to the cloverleaf practically an administrative move. Totally doable and safe at night. That then gives them the cloverleaf as a launch pad.

    So on the night of the 21st, having established a safe zone between the Tishreen highway and the canal to the south of the Kenzi road at the edge of Jobar, they come down from the mountain, drive Kenzi out to the cloverleaf, fire and return the same way, as part of their prep bombardment for the next phase.

    There's no evidence those buildings were only seized on the day of the attacks being filmed. That's not how these things work. First you secure your line of departure and assembly areas, deploy the troops into initial, safe positions (probably the night before) then you move out at H-Hour. The videos start when the action starts: we shouldn't assume dashes under contact in daylight, because that's what we see, are the only kind of tactical movement in this sector. If they lost control of those 3 buildings for any period they'd be filled with booby traps the next day and they'd have to take them back again. No, Occam and military experience says they had continual occupation in that area in late August.

    The argument about vehicles in the open actually works more strongly against the "rebels did it" argument if you assume those buildings are in Guard Div possession on Aug. 21. You've got a clear line of sight from those 3 buildings onto the cloverleaf that has been identified as the most likely launchpoint, 1000m or less away, with government artillery on call. That makes rebels being able to move large vehicles with impunity in that location very unlikely, too.

    The most plausible Syrian army unit, given that one had to be involved, in the use of such a key asset is the army's most elite force. That's just basic Bayesian reasoning, again. Assuming the Syrian army was involved at all, these weapons would have to have been used in conjunction with some unit that was the "landholder" of the launch position in question, in service of somebody's tactical aim. The Republican Guard Division was certainly using loaned air power along with its own artillery to suppress Zamalka in this period to support its operations in Jobar, and requesting support from a chemical weapons unit seems no different from a military tasking perspective, so the fact they don't "own" any isn't really important. As the landholder, the Div commander almost certainly accepted or authorized their launch from his Area of Operations.

    1. Bruce,

      A few known datapoints to supplement your narrative(s). Much of this will be prepared into a battle-map centred on August 21 'some time soon'.

      - ANNA turnaround is same-day or next day. See where events on August 21/22 are reported no later than August 23.

      If you have other datapoints showing a longer turn-around please supply them using primary data - as opposed to secondary sources like Osmint. As a comment, ANNA is a news organisation, not a history channel. They make their money from publishing up-to-date news.

      The area South of 6th Tishreen and especially Kenzi and South contained multiple insurgent fighting bases on August 21 and days on either side. e.g.

      Industrial school next to Army Base

      or Power Station on Kenzi

      Mortar and sniper fighting position East of Army Base just off Kenzi e.g. Sniping or Mortars

      So, based on this it is not possible to say

      "they controlled the area to 400m out or more from that axis on either side continually through this period."

      As I said, I'll prepare a battle-map and database using primary sources and publish it in due course, but just from the few videos I've scanned there is continual insurgent interdiction on all major transport routes in the Jobar/Qabon nexus.

      Regrettably most of the rest of your comments on the topic are theoretical, and as we've seen in a couple of instances here, incorrect. Independent primary source data-points may help.

    2. Bruce,

      First of all I want to say it's great to have you here. I don't think we ever had a contributor who knows the evidence and supported the regime-attack scenario. Your input could be very helpful, and I hope you stay and contribute. Ideally, we can write together a scenario to put here:

      As to the specific issues:
      >>the "secure area" argument works against both government and rebel hypotheses
      I don't think so. Our calculated launch location is more than 1km from the advancing SAA forces in Qaboun, and even those are units focused on short-range urban warfare. However, the SAA units are surrounded by rebel snipers in surrounding buildings.

      >>it's likely there have been lots of launches that were not filmed
      I agree. However, it's clear that an UMLACA launch is not well-suited for front lines. We have several videos of launches (including 120mm) and they involve two trucks and several people operating in the open.
      And it's not like the government doesn't have other options - they have long-range chemical artillery, and a wide range of long-range chemical rockets. Anyone claiming that the SAA worked its way to Qaboun to launch these improvised non-binary chemical weapons must also explain this weird choice.

      >>an attempt to develop an "off-the-books" weapon
      This is the double-false-flag scenario I suggested (same link). The main problem with it is that the government clearly had no plan to implicate the rebels. For weeks they just said "we don't know what happened there", and provided no fabricated evidence. They were clearly unprepared for the world's response.

      >>vehicles running down the M5 or up 6th Tishreen to that cloverleaf at night and launching
      The cloverleaf is over 3 km from the UN impact site, which is beyond the UMLACA range.

      Additionally, we still need to explain the low-grade sarin and the liwa al-islam videos.

      A rebel-attack scenario matches all this evidence well. Its two main holes are:
      1. You need to assume UMLACAs were looted - definitely reasonable.
      2. The opposition had to produce a ton of sarin - This is by far the biggest gap, but we have very strong evidence to support it: low-grade sarin, the al-nusra arrest in Turkey, Del-Ponte, Hersh, Khan Al-Assal, the pre-ghouta liwa al-islam sarin video and more.

    3. Sasa,

      The cloverleaf is less than 3000m from the Southernmost UN inspected splash. Depending on which bit of it you use it's of the order of 2500m-2600m. The fly-road off the Southern bypass gets as close as 2200m - and then there is the Southern bypass itself.

      However, We have video evidence that SAA pickets on those road sections had been under attack for some time. For example uploaded August 16,

      "Battalion Artillery Brigade Mujahideen Gota targeting barrier on the Southern Highway mortar and injuries directly"

      "Artillery Battalion of the Mujahideen Brigade Gota Bsthdav the barrier on the Southern Highway 08/12/2013"


      "The destruction of a tank on the Southern Highway t72 Brigade and the Mujahedeen Brigades capital Gota Gota 06/24/2013"

      and finally this which I think is on the cloverleaf at 33°32'29.65" N 36°21'04.41" E (corrections gratefully accepted)

      "Gota Mujahedeen Brigade Artillery Battalion hit the barrier system on the Southern Highway mortar cannon 14/09/2013"

      This location seems to be a favourite attack point for months prior.

    4. Rejoinders:

      1) Charles, you haven't offered any proof the ANNA videos are not misdated, just your theory that they couldn't be. Where's your evidence? This ANNA stuff isn't news, it's war porn, it doesn't matter to the viewer when they were taken. No one in Abkhazia is tracking the block-by-block progression through a Damascus suburb. And remember you're not even going by the air dates, but by the dates they were posted on YouTube. There's all kinds of reasons that could lag events. Also notice that a lot of the series at least as they appear on Youtube seem to appear out of order. Certainly the ones posted in October and November seem to be enjoying unseasonably summery weather for that time of year it gets cloudy and rainy in Damascus in the late fall. The site in question that did the analysis gave their estimate of the dates the videos were made, based in part on understanding better than we do what the voices are saying, I suspect, and you haven't offered any real evidence they're wrong. Which means your estimates about when there were rebel fighting bases on the Kenzi road also have no validity for the moment. Those particular videos could very well have been shot earlier in August.

      Your one dateable example is related to the Aug. 21 attacks themselves. Well, of course, now that one IS news and that will be posted soon after airing. That doesn't mean any of the other war-porny ones are.

      Your other videos showing interdiction on the M5 are pretty much beside the point. I don't think there was any dispute that the M5 could be interdicted by mortar or recoilless rifle from the Zamalka side, all along its length. But a 2,000m Volcano is ALWAYS going to be in potential interdiction range of those systems, wherever it's used. And yet somehow they are still being used... No, you would need to establish physical occupation of the west side of that cloverleaf around the date in question to rule out the government launch scenario.

      S.W., your calculated launch location has a huge CEP. Assuming we were looking at the west side of the cloverleaf as a launch location, you're only 600m from the building I called OP1, effective automatic weapon range. It's fair to say hostile occupation of that building would preclude launch from anywhere in your likely location bubble west of the M5.

      I was not connecting "off the books" to "double false flag." (I think you mean "reverse false flag" there, a double false flag would be if the government was trying to convince the world that the rebels didn't do it.) I'm just saying that if you're trying to conceal a revitalized CW program, you're may feel precluded from using any weapons the world already knows you have and will look for alternatives.

      In the end, it doesn't matter what evidence you have for rebel sarin use. If we grant those buildings were in government hands on that night, your rebel-use scenario is, I am afraid, extremely implausible.

      I mean, think about what you're asking people to believe if that were the case. That rebels arranged a theft of the government munitions they needed; that they filled that with a staggering amount of moderately good quality sarin that they made in some nearby rebel-held area. That they had uniforms, passwords, whatever to allow them to occupy a launch position within LMG range at night of the best unit in the Syrian army with large vehicles. That they were able to avoid detection throughout that operation, even though they were firing missiles that even the worst tactical operations centre would notice and check against their fires plan for that night in a second. And that they would be able to resist the urge, if they'd already gotten that masterful drop on the Republican Guards, to turn the rockets and kill a totally surprised enemy in large numbers, but stick to the plan of murdering their own supporters with them instead. Just so we're all clear on the hypothesis that you say "matches all the evidence well."

  20. Bruce,

    You haven't mentioned the links provided to videos of insurgent fighting bases within metres of Kenzi in the relevant period.

    Do you accept your statement

    "they controlled the area to 400m out or more from that axis on either side continually through this period." [referring to Kenzi]

    Is wrong?

    An inspection of the newsanna channel and the ANNA homepage shows most videos are uploaded within a day or so of being taken. Not so much the internal video meta-data but the descriptions such as

    "Published on Aug 19, 2013
    Another brief summary of the situation in Syria for 18 August 2013."

    There are actually two classes of uploads. The initial Russian language upload and then an English subtitles version days later.

    There are also an awful lot of copies uploaded at later dates, but sticking with the newsanna channel gets the primary uploads and associated metadata.

    Unless you can prove otherwise using primary sources it seems that newsanna videos lag 1-3 days behind real-time and up to a week later with English subtitles.

    Which brings us back to topic. 6th Tishreen through Kenzi and then to the canal was heavily contested on August 21 based on large amounts of primary evidence before during, and after August 21.

    Brown Moses made the fallacious comment that everything West of the [Eastern Qaboun] bus station at was in Government hands (at the same time implying everything East of that was in insurgent hands). He was wrong on the Western comment as we know for certain that insurgents occupied the Industrial school and areas around the Power station. In fact the Power station and the *other* Al-Qaboun bus station were the scene of heavy fighting including both sides of Kenzi.

    Your primary narrative fails because there were no clear transit lines along Kenzi on August 21. Nor in fact was 6th Tishreen safe, nor was the Southern Bypass - this is all based on primary evidence.

    Unless you can come up with another mechanism for getting unarmoured trucks and men to the Eastern part of North Jobar on the night of August 20/21 then that theory is basically defunct.

  21. Does this change anything:

    U.N. confirms chemical arms were used repeatedly in Syria

  22. New Postol Report with range estimates of chemical volcanos

    1. And as comment, their report is pretty deficient. In particular they haven't appreciated the mechanical outer shell and have blithely stated the OD is 122mm when it is appreciably larger - and would have to be to accommodate a 120mm OD rocket motor.

      They also haven't shown their working in their range analysis and in particular how they managed to get such a large range extension with a (non-existent) nosecone.

      I'd have to give this analysis a D grade.

      CJ Chiver article at

    2. What is needed is a list of questions drafted up and emailed to these two gentlemen in the hope they would answer.

      Specific questions such as asking them to show their range analysis workings etc.

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