, Nour Malas
and Rima Abushakra published a piece
of first rate journalism in the Wall St. Journal on Friday, 22 November 2013. It is one of the most comprehensive reports on events surrounding the sarin gas attack that took more than 1400 lives in the Damascus suburbs in the morning hours of 21 August 2013. With this report, which I recommend everyone read in full, they have connected many of the dots and filled in some of the gaps in the story as it has emerged so far. For example, for all those who have asked just how the US government came up with the precise number of 1429 people killed in the gas attack, they provide this answer:
To calculate the death toll, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency counted the bodies using computer programs that analysed images of the dead. Analysts loaded more than 100 videos from YouTube into the system, which scanned each image for unique features and then compared the images to ensure bodies weren't double-counted.
Bodies showing gaping wounds or that were covered by bloody sheets weren't included, because intelligence analysts assumed they might have been killed by conventional weapons. The CIA's final tally came to 1,429
The WSJ piece begins:
As Syrian Chemical Attack Loomed, Missteps Doomed CiviliansMiscalculations by the Syrian regime, opposition groups and U.S. government left them all unprepared for the Aug. 21 gas attack.
As Syrian troops battled rebel forces in the Damascus suburbs Aug. 18, U.S. eavesdropping equipment began picking up ominous signals.
A special Syrian unit that handles chemical weapons was ordered closer to the front lines, officials briefed on the intelligence say, and started mixing poisons. For two days, warning signs mounted until coded messages went out for the elite team to bring in the "big ones" and put on gas masks.
The facts and history described in this article reveals a US government that had come to accept the routine"tactical"
use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against his opposition, and indirectly supported their effective use both by denial of basic protective devices to those being gassed and by a public denial of the fact that they were being gassed. This story reveals a damning history of US government complicity with the Assad Regime's gas murder and its biggest flaw is that it tries to excuse this trail of evidence as "missteps"
You might just as well call carrying a loaded weapon into a bank a "misstep"
after you have been caught trying to rob it, or the killing of hostages in an attempt to bargain a "miscalculation"
after you have been captured.
What the WSJ piece lacks is the context of the relationship between the Obama administration and the Assad regime that goes back to
presumed presidential nominee Obama adviser Daniel Kurtzer's meetings in Damascus in June 2008, continued with a delegation he sent to Damascus a week after he won the election
and the appointment of George Mitchell as special Middle East envoy two days after his inauguration. It them intensified with multiple meetings in Damascus and elsewhere, mostly secret, between US officials, especially John Kerry and Bashar al-Assad and other Baathist officials that continued even as democracy protests were breaking out.
I have documented all this and more in some detail in Barack Obama's Courtship of Bashar al-Assad.
That history tells us just how much Obama's, and Kerry's, overall Middle East strategy has been predicated on Bashar al-Assad remaining in power. While they may have manoeuvred to use the fight with his opposition to weaken him and thus gain a better settlement in negotiations, they have never wanted to replace him. Contrary to the gospel according to Assad, Putin and all those on the Left and Right who parrot them, Obama has never been in favor of "regime change"
in Syria. That is why it is far too kind to characterize his underhanded "good cop"
support for Assad as "missteps"
When President Obama laid down his infamous "red-line,"
warning Assad against using "a whole bunch of chemical weapons"
on 20 August 2012, I said
he was giving a green light to Assad's continued slaughter by more conventional means, a slaughter that then had already taken 40,000 lives, just a third of the 120,000 lives that many sources estimate the death toll has reached since then.
I also questioned
why he included that "whole bunch of"
loophole in his ultimatum. Now we know that Obama was giving his blessing to the small amounts of chemical weapons his CIA believed Assad was already using against the opposition. The WSJ reports:
That July,  American and Israeli spy agencies for the first time intercepted fragmentary intelligence about regime forces using chemical weapons on a small scale.
The White House responded by attempting to cover up the regime's use of chemicals and then issuing an oblique threat designed to warn Assad not to create a mass casualty event through his chemical warfare. For those of us that didn't know that Assad might already be guilty of gas murder, the "whole bunch of"
comment might have seemed an "inept"
slip, but Assad knew exactly what it meant. He was already using tanks, heavy artillery, helicopter gunships, jet aircraft, cluster bombs, jellied gasoline, barrel bombs and even a little gas against civilian targets and Obama was telling him "Steady as she goes."
Then-White House Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough and other officials told their agency counterparts that the top-secret information shouldn't be made public, but congressional committees were briefed, according to officials. Mr. McDonough also decided to restrict the distribution of such "raw" intelligence inside the government because of its sensitivity, these people say. White House officials didn't want to set off a chain reaction that would restrict their ability to decide how active a role to play, senior U.S. officials say.
The following month, on Aug. 20, President Barack Obama said the regime would cross the U.S.'s "red line" if it started moving or using "a whole bunch of chemical weapons."
, after intelligence came in that Assad was moving his chemical weapons around, Obama reissued his "red-line"
warning but dropped the prohibition against moving them. WSJ continues:
U.S. and Israeli officials say Mr. Assad settled into a pattern of using small amounts of chemical weapons, believing the West wouldn't intervene. "The regime was using chemical weapons on a small scale to terrorize and warn," says Ziad Issa, a Syrian doctor based in France who worked frequently in northern Syria.
And so the small scale use of chemical weapons continued to grow and as evidence started to surface about this use, the Obama administration engaged in a pattern of cover-up on Assad's behalf, claiming "Assad didn't use chemical weapons in Syria"
as I wrote in a post
on 15 January 2013. Meanwhile, the WSJ reports they were working hard behind the scenes with their "bad cop"
partners trying to keep things from getting out of hand:
Last December, the U.S. intercepted an unusually complete communication in which Syrian officials spoke about a potentially larger-scale chemical attack involving aircraft. The White House sent private messages to the Russian government, which in turn asked Iran to lean on the Syrians to scrap the plan, according to current and former U.S. officials involved in the matter. Iran did just that, the officials say. A spokesperson for Iran's U.N. mission said Iran had made it clear it opposed the use of chemical weapons.
This illustrates how the international "good cop"
, "bad cop"
game is played behind the scenes and how these world powers have collaborated to manage a war that is now killing it's second hundred thousandth.
While deterred from massive gas attacks, the Assad regime continued to deploy chemical weapons in a variety of new ways deemed not to have crossed any red-lines, WSJ reports:
On March 19, Syrian activists in Aleppo reported chemicals had been used in a missile strike on the government-held town of Khan Aasal, drawing international attention. State television said it was the rebels who had deployed the chemicals. Later, the Aleppo forensics chief defected to Turkey and claimed the government was responsible.
The pace of the chemical strikes was increasing all this year but the evidence was also mounting. This was making it increasing difficult for the Obama administration to continue its cover up. WSJ continues:
A month after the Khan Aasal strike, on April 13, an attack in Aleppo killed several people. Again doctors collected blood and other samples and delivered them to representatives of the U.S. embassy in Turkey. This time, administration contacts told rebel doctors and opposition activists they believed the regime had used poison gases, but that it didn't constitute a mass killing—implying that Mr. Assad hadn't crossed the "red line," according to opposition sympathizers who recalled the conversations.
Under pressure from allies, the U.S. made its findings public on April 25, saying American intelligence agencies "with varying degrees of confidence" believed that the Syrian government had used sarin.
Following a pattern familiar to those that have watched the Assad regime introduce one killing system after another into its routine of suppression, like with the introduction of Migs and Scuds, a little bit, then a little more, see how the world reacts and then full on, the pattern was repeating itself with chemical weapons while the Obama administration looked on:
On April 29, a small bomb dropped from a helicopter landed in the garden of a home in Saraqeb, in Idlib province, killing one. A Syrian doctor carried two tubes of blood from the victim to Turkey, where Dr. Pitti put them in a cooler and flew them to Paris. Tests confirmed the use of sarin.
According to the WSJ, that is why they were caught by surprise by the size of the gas attack on 21 August. They had intel pointing to the preparation for three days but nobody had bothered to translate it. Perhaps they don't understand how Google Translates can be programmed to automatically translate things and send alerts on keywords like "sarin"
or perhaps they really didn't want to know in a timely fashion. In any case, this bit of missed intelligence cost 1429 people their lives according to the intelligence agency that missed it. One can only wish they were as adept at using technology for saving the living as they are at using it for counting the dead.
The Obama administration had been closely monitoring Syria's chemical-weapons stockpile since the conflict began in 2011, and had watched the regime carry out about a dozen small-scale chemical attacks before the big one, U.S. officials say. Even if they had translated the intercepts before the Aug. 21 strike, these officials say, they likely wouldn't have acted because there were no indications it would be out of the ordinary.
The Obama administration, with the complicity of the Media, and the Left, I must add, has allowed the Assad Regime to move us into a world where mass poison gas attacks are no longer considered "out of the ordinary."
This is a great historic tragedy and should be the real headline here.
The WSJ piece is also wrong when it claims that the large number of deaths caused by the 21 August attack came as a surprise and may have been the result of "miscalculation."
In the earlier, smaller-scale attacks, U.S. officials say, Syrian units appeared to assess population densities and weather forecasts to hold down death counts. These officials now believe Syrian forces may have simply gotten sloppy on Aug. 21, misjudging the weather or the number of people in the line of fire.
What this line of reasoning overlooks is that on the morning of 21 August something like 18 poison gas rockets were targeted at seven locations. It was a much more intense attack than any of the earlier ones.
The Obama administration also denied protections to the victims
Not only did Obama attempt to cover up Assad's crimes and acquiesce to his use of chemical weapons time and time again after Obama made his empty "red-line"
proclamation, Obama also did what he could to see that Assad's victims were left defenceless. Revolutionary leaders say that before the big gas attack in August, every request for gas masks, protective gear or antidotes for Assad's chemical weapons was denied. WSJ reports:
Syrian opposition leaders made their first formal appeal to the U.S. for protection from chemical weapons back in June 2012. At a meeting in Washington, opposition representatives handed administration officials a request for various non-lethal supplies, including 2,500 gas masks, say people who attended.
The request was denied. These appeals for masks and other protective chemical gear were repeated often and with greater urgency in the following year. I reported on this
and how these denials
seemed especially egregious because the US government had tens of thousands of sarin capable chemical kits rotting in warehouses all over the region, shipped there to prepare for Iraqi WMD attacks that never came in the Iraq War.
The WSJ continues:
In February, U.S.-based representatives of the opposition stepped up their requests for protection, asking top Pentagon officials for a supply of the penlike auto-injectors carried by American troops, diplomats and spies to treat sarin exposure. They argued the devices were easier and quicker to use than conventional syringes. The answer was no.
And so it went all the way up until 21 August:
Rebel leaders and their allies in the U.S. government say the White House failed to act on requests for gas masks, antidote injectors and other protective gear until it was too late.
Fortunately for Assad's would be victims, the French had a better response to the situation, WSJ reports:
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.
And I have already reported
how the French were preparing a unilateral military response, jets warming up on the runway, to Assad's Damascus gas attack before Obama pulled their chain and made them call off the raid. I guess he couldn't stop them from making the medical deliveries.
So now, while the Assad regime continues to deny any responsibility for any
of the chemical attacks, he is given a pass because he has promised to declare all he has and allow it to be destroyed.
In return for this. He is apparently being allowed to continue his war against his own people by every other means at his disposal. This is what he has been able to do to the children lately without resorting to the use of chemicals.
Mortar in Jobar hits children, being interviewed about their war experience | 23 Nov 2013
The BBC reported
Syria conflict: Children 'targeted by snipers'
More than 11,000 children have died in Syria's civil war in nearly three years, including hundreds targeted by snipers, a new report says.
Summary executions and torture have also been used against children as young as one, the London-based Oxford Research Group think tank says.
The report says the majority of children have been killed by bombs or shells in their own neighbourhoods. More...
CNN is reporting
More than 11,000 Syrian children killed in civil war, report says
CNN) -- More than 11,000 children have been killed in the nearly three-year civil war in Syria, including young boys and girls who were tortured and executed, according to a report from a London-based think tank.
The Oxford Research Group said that most of the 11,420 children reported dead were killed in explosions, and many others were shot to death.
Teenage boys were most likely to be the victims of targeted killings, according to the report, entitled "Stolen Futures: The Hidden Toll of Child Casualties in Syria." More...
The horror stories of regime abuse continue to trickle out, like this one about child torture published today
A Mom and her three children from Daraa, Syria - two boys ages 4 and 7 and an infant - came into the clinic in Ramtha.
Her husband is in the FSA (Free Syrian Army) fighting the brutal Assad regime. In order to find his whereabouts (as if the Mom would know EXACTLY where her husband was fighting) the Assad regime ARRESTED CHILDREN - her two week old infant, and her two other sons, as well as her mother-in-law and her sister-in-laws. You read that right.
The two boys were tortured and the Mom showed us scars on the back of the neck of the middle son from cigarettes the soldiers used the burn them. Unbelievably still, Assad’s thugs put heroin in the infant’s formula.
The three children were imprisoned for three months. Mom went to the UN and other organizations in an effort to get help getting her family back - especially her children. She got the attention of Al Arabiyaa TV who interviewed her. With that and the help of the UN she got her children released on the condition that she leave Syria. But her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law are still imprisoned. Prayers for their safety for I can not imagine the horrors that likely are being visited upon them. More...
and the killing goes on unabated with the connivance of most of the world and most of the Left.Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria
Thursday, 21 November 2013
Long term readers of the blog may remember that throughout 2012 I was tracking evidence of a type of DIY weapon being used by the Syrian air force widely described as a barrel bomb. Anyone familiar with videos coming from Syria will be very familiar with the term "barrel bomb", a term that has been used to describe both conventional military bombs, such as the OFAB 100-120, and the DIY barrel bombs, which has led to a certain amount of confusion.
DIY barrel bombs were first recorded
in late August 2012, and were generally metal barrel, pipes, etc, filled with explosives and frequently shrapnel, and dropped from the back of Mil Mi-8
transport helicopters. When I originally investigated these munitions there was a lot debate other whether or not the Syrian air force would use improvised explosive devices as weapons, with even one commentator describing the idea as "Barrel bomb baloney
", but eventually videos emerged
showing a helicopter crew throwing DIY barrel bombs out the rear of a helicopter, and footage from Taftanaz air base
showing DIY barrel bombs in storage after it was overrun by opposition forces.
One flaw with these DIY barrel bombs is they all appeared to be detonated using a simple wick fuse, like lighting a stick of dynamite. The problem with this is if the wick is too short the munitionwill detonate mid-air
, and if it's too long there's a chance the bomb will be smash to pieces before it detonates.
Over the past few months I've been in contact with Richard Lloyd
, Warhead Technology Consultant at Tesla Laboratory Inc, and among the various topics we've been discussing, he's highlighted a number of videos that show what appear to be unusually large explosions, and what appears to be DIY barrel bomb being dropped from helicopters that appear much larger
than ones we've seen in the past.
Videos have now been posted from the town of Kafr Zita, Hama
that appear to confirm the theory that larger DIY barrel bombs have now been deployed
Both videos show large DIY barrel bombs that have failed to detonate. The second video shows one that appears to have partly exploded, peeling back the thick metal, but what's very interesting is the design of the DIY barrel bomb in the first video.
As I mentioned before, one flaw with the barrel bomb was the wick fuse causing problems with detonation. The large DIY barrel bomb in the first video instead appears to have an impact fuze, which is removed from the munition
It appears there might have possibly been two impact fuzes, probably because of the broad front end (something also seen in munitions for the opposition's Hell Cannon
), and a lack of aerodynamics to ensure the bomb lands right on the tip of it's nose. That lack of aerodynamics has been partly addressed by whoever put this bomb together by the addition of tail fins
Richard Lloyd believes this would have been able to carry 1250-1750 lbs (approx 565-795kg) of explosive, and suggests the tail fins wouldn't have been very effective because of that. What this does show is the Syrian Air Force is deploying huge DIY bombs, and they are attempting to make the fuzes far more effective than previous model.
You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org