Jan 4, 2015

New Satellite Imagery

In his latest post Eliot Higgins analyzes recent satellite images uploaded to Google Earth, taken just three days after the August 21st attacks.

The images show many tanks scattered throughout North Jobar, some of them within Volcano range of the impact sites. This leads Eliot to conclude that “government forces were well established in the area”, and therefore the Volcano’s short distance does not contradict the regime attack scenario.

As I will show below, this conclusion is incorrect. But first, it’s worth noting that this information is not new - We already know the army was operating in the area on the 24th from several sources:       
  • The UN final report describes a sarin attack on Syrian soldiers that took place in Jobar on the 24th. The report provides a location for the attack, which I added to Eliot’s map of the area below. So we know the SAA was operating even closer to the impact sites than the tanks shown.

  •  A TV report from the 24th describes an Army incursion in Jobar which uncovered an opposition chemical lab (a report that was later confirmed).
  • The ANNA TV reports which Eliot has already analyzed in detail.

As to Eliot’s conclusion: While we can place SAA operations on the 24th within range of the Zamalka impact sites, they cannot be associated with the chemical attack, for the following reasons:
  1. The impact sites clearly point to a northern launch source, while the SAA was operating north-west to the impact sites. In particular, it is very difficult to reconcile the findings in impact site 2 with an attack from Jobar.
  2. SAA positions on the 24th are significantly different than the SAA positions on the 21st. As detailed above, the SAA was leading a concentrated effort in Jobar during these days, and it is safe to assume the front line was significantly farther to the West when the chemical attack occurred.
  3. Even if we were to ignore the two limitations above, it would still mean that the SAA decided to bring their chemical Volcanos to the very edge of the frontline. A chemical Volcano launch is a complex operation involving two unarmored trucks, several people operating in the open, and a large amount of highly lethal sarin. From the ANNA videos and the multiple attacks on SAA forces in the area, it is clear that this was not a safe zone. Why on earth would they take such a risk, when they can launch longer range chemical weapons from the safety of SAA army bases all around Damascus?

Each of the three facts above strongly contradict an SAA Volcano attack from Jobar. Considered together, they make such an attack near impossible.

There is however something we can learn from the new imagery: While there are dozens of tanks in Jobar, I could not find a single tank anywhere near the launch site, or even anywhere east of the highway (the Southern Bypass) for that matter. Furthermore, as Eliot notes in his post, the only government position east of the highway (“Tohme Checkpoint”) was wiped off the ground within days. Since we do have videos and reports of the opposition operating in the area, as well as them attacking SAA forces from east of the highway, our conclusion that the launch site was under opposition control on August 21st is strengthened.

Conclusion: The new satellite imagery from August 24th, 2013 somewhat strengthens the claim that the sarin Volcano launch site was under opposition control.