UN report confirms use of CW in Syria


A brief post to note that the UN report on the now-confirmed chemical weapons (CW) attacks on Ghouta has been released.

It appears that many commentators and analysts, including myself, were correct in pointing to the unknown munition detailed in my previous posts as the probable delivery mechanism for CW agent in these attacks.

The UN report confirms that the agent in question is Sarin, and gives reverse azimuths that indicate short-range surface-to-surface rockets appear to have been fired from regime controlled territory. Analysts at both the New York Times and Human Rights Watch have provided similar conclusions. Chris Chivers has a brief post up here, that explains his reasoning for why the most likely culprit is the Assad regime. I largely agree with his thoughts.

Image extracted from the UN report. Human Rights Watch compiled a thorough report some days ago, which I contributed to. Eliot Higgins has collated excellent images and video of the munitions.

Thanks must also be extended to the Syrians who photographed and filmed the munitions and made this media available to me and others either directly or indirectly.

Remember, all UXO (and especially known or suspected CW munitions) is dangerous, and should not be approached or handled where possible.  


  1. The UN report didn’t say the missiles had come from Government territory. They gave reverse azimuths that included both opposition territory and Government territory.

    The two 130mm munitions examined at Moadamiyah did not have traces of CW agent or decomposition products on them.

    The general area for the 130mm rockets did show some GB decomposition products but none in association with the 130mm rockets.

    The UN team failed to take any control samples from the area so it is not possible to determine if CW decomposition products were associated with the 130mm rockets or were associated with some other delivery mechanism.

    It remains open that the 130mm rockets were leftover from previous engagements in the area (e.g. used for smoke) and unrelated to the delivery of the CW material.

    The number of spent 130mm rockets found was simply unable to deliver the amount of CW agent supposed to have been used in that location (Moadamiyah)

    1. 1.) I assume you mean 140mm rockets? You’ll note I’ve not made reference to them in this post. I am only talking about the still unidentified munitions of 300mm+ calibre as discussed in my earlier pieces.

      2.) I have adjusted the wording to indicate that reverse azimuths were provided, rather than an analysis of what they represent. NYT and HRW have both pointed to the rockets being fired from regime controlled territory, and this is consistent with other information I have received.

  2. Minor clarification. The rocket motors I referred to were 130mm nozzle but the substantive body was 140mm.

    Also, Please note Page 18 of the report

    “The sites have been well-travelled by by other individuals both before and during the investigation. Fragments and other possible evidence have clearly been handled/moved prior to the arrival of the investigation team”

    And Page 22

    “During the time spent at these locations, individuals arrived carrying other suspected munitions indicating that such potential evidence is being moved and possibly manipulated”

    1. Valid points.

      As mentioned, I have not discussed the 140mm (M-14 series) in this post. I have not seen enough evidence to conclude that they were used to deliver CW agents, though it remains a distinct possibility.

      The other (300mm+) munitions, however, appear to have been conclusively determined to have delivered sarin.

      1. With the 300mm+ missiles, there is a question about their range.

        The original US design appeared to for use in the under 2000m(?) range for minefield clearance (my range estimate, feel free to clarify).

        The Syrian versions are larger but I doubt they have a much longer range because mass scales with the cube of length and rocket power by the square of diameter. They certainly would not have very good accuracy at most ranges. I’d guess 3000m – 5000m max to be militarily useful? Perhaps less?

        Knowing that, it should be possible to draw circles on the map to reduce the number of possible launching sites.

      2. I would suggest (and have) that the 300mm+ munitions have limited range and accuracy.

        These munitions are certainly not a direct copy of the US SLUFAE system, despite some external similarities.

      3. The last map from HRW sets the range to over 9 kilometers for both the 140 and the 345 mm. This must be a joke : the 345 mm featured by In UNs report is a very, very short range , maybe 1 km- maybe 2 – but 9? . That is out of question. Hrw map found here :


  3. vonBraun · · Reply

    If the sarin was not related to the 140 mm rockets found, then the focus on the ‘mystery’ 340 mm with front container as shown in UN – report. Havent seen any discuss the possible range of that construction, but an ackward drum 3 times the diameter of rocket body with a payload of 50 liters in the flat nose suggest terrible areodynamics and ballistic features which does not conform with long distance shooting!

    This must be a very short-range missile , which again rises question if this was fired from close up gov. held area or from rebel held sector.

    We have a very similar construction in the US XM130 SLUFAE mine clearing missile that had a range of a few hundred meters. Front munitions was 345 mm wide with 45 kg , ,rocket was 2.38 m long, body 5 inches . So in regard to measurements and design this is a very close to the ones found in Gouta – and consequently both range and ballistic features could be compared. Documented here:

    US dumped this construction because of its short range of few hundred meters, but there is a video showing how it worked:

    That Syrian army has a very similar missile intended for mine clearance with air/fuel shock is not surprising, when you know the army was set up for armoured tanks confrontation with Israel. Brown Moses alleges it has been used before in conflict, but was that with CW or with a fuel/ air charge? And established Syria has this weapon in stock, we also know rebels have raided many warehouses and could have obtained it there .

    To establish who used these ‘drum’missiles with sarin, the range of the missiles found will be of utter importance to determine who fired them. If range is estimated in terms of hundreds of meters it could point to the rebels, if we talk about kilometers it points to the governement positions. The diagram in of the missile in the UN report points to a very short range.

  4. The SLUFAE video above provides the clearest explanation of why using the SLUFAE as a demonstration of the flight characteristics of the unknown round is flawed. The round exits the tube at low velocity and the rocket flames out after roughly a second. In comparison every launch video we’ve so far identified for the unknown munition shows the rocket leaving at a high velocity and the rocket motor continuing to flame until off screen.

    Pretending the range characteristics must necessarily be the same is simple lazy thinking designed around the conclusion you wish to draw instead of the evidence on hand. It would be far better to use the range characteristics of the rocket and scale down performance based on the oversized warhead instead of looking at a 40 year old test rocket and saying it must be similar to that.

    1. The SLUFAE was designed to have a very short burn time for stability as well as allowing the parachutes to deploy early.

      The SLUFAE was designed for a 30 barrel launcher to progressively launch rounds at a fixed azimuth but with varying time delays on parachute deployment.

      This allowed a sequence of rounds to clear a corridor in front of the launcher at ranges up to quite a bit longer than tube type mine clearers like the Python.

      It had a minimum range set by the burn-time – I’m guessing a couple of hundred metres.

      It doesn’t really matter how long the rocket burns for. In the end it’s how many kilos of hot exhaust get thrown out the back at high speed that determines how far it will go.

      The SLUFAE by my visual estimate could throw the missile at max 1000m when the parachutes didn’t deploy. The mystery rocket wouldn’t be much different no matter how fast or slow the motor burned. (I know I’ve reducing my claimed range of the mystery rocket, but I’ve rewatched the SLUFAE tapes a few times and changed my mind)

      Out of interest the dimensions from the UN inspectors are different to the figures provided by Brown Moses. It appears the missiles associated with the CW at Ghouta have a diameter of 360mm (UN figures) compared to the 330mm of missiles reported by Brown Moses.

      A short range 300mm+ missile seriously dents the HRW guess that it was fired from 9500 metres away (actually 7,500 metres based on measuring their map). You’ll have to look at distances of 1000 metres from strike point to see where/who fired it.

      1. Rocket science isn’t “Yeah, sure, looks the same”. Show the math or stop making up facts, like your previous claim that Ethylene Oxide was the most sensible and logical explanation for the deaths. You seem to be holding conclusions in search of evidence.

    2. vonBraun · · Reply

      I pointed at similarities in construction and measurements. Charge in the Ghouta 345 may be more as you state, 5 inch tube leaves room for approx. 10 l charge, and pbbly with a longer burn time as you say. But the flatnosed barrel in front with a payload of 50l, 345 mm diameter , represents a terrible air brake and very poor aerodynamics, which does mot conform with a 9 km range . This wld be a wildly inaccurate missile if it could go that far. My conclusion is a short range + – 2 km, if its purpose was to hit anything at all. Thats my view, even if its not in line with HRW and others who are eager to nail this to a gov position 9 km away.

  5. Naming yourself Von Braun does not make you an expert on missile design that your entirely hand waved fake calculation is to be taken seriously. You are once again going backwards from the conclusion that the similarity of appearance equals similarity of performance is entirely suspect. Lets take the Zuni rocket a 127mm 2000m long round with an effective range of 8 km. Now lets compare that to the 9M28F which has very similar size characteristics at 122mm and 2270mm long but has a maximum range of 15km. Which should be the baseline for the rockets performance absent the oversized warhead? Do you acknowledge that the major difference in base range would significantly alter our expectation of modified warhead range?

    Seriously stop making up range numbers unless you have some hard facts on the performance of the rocket.

  6. And this rocket with a 55 liter trashcan on top can fly 9km and pinpoint on the target?

  7. The UN Report confirmed the use of Sarin. However the team consisting of hand picked experts from the OPCW and WHO, carried out the investigation under the pretext of Investigate without laying blame or pointing the finger.Would it be correct to assume that the UN Inspectors are in a better position to beyond reasonable doubt lay blame.Due to complaints from Russia pertaining to the UN report, the Inspectors will be returning to the region to complete the investigation. To make sense out of the events in Damascus i Would combine statements from White House chief of staff Denis McDonough with the UN report for a greater understanding of the situation,
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/09/white-house-syria_n_3893223.html. By the time the HRW have finished pushing their off base report as fact..The major players will be moving on to the next stage of disposing of Assads CWs, broker a cease fire, and will be discussing the best plan of action to deal with certain rebel groups.

  8. You may see the location from which the rockets were launched here:
    It is based on research of the 360mm rocket range, and three azimuth calculations from impact sites (turns out the UN miscalculated the azimuth in Zamalka…oops). All evidence is linked from the map.

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