Syria Chemical Weapons Roundup

With remarkable speed, the UN has produced and released its report on the Syrian debacle!

A great deal of material has appeared on this subject very rapidly. Something we haven’t spotted elsewhere yet is a one-stop shop for official and unofficial reports on the events of August 21st in Ghouta, Syria, and previously elsewhere in Syria. So here, in no particular order, is what we’ve spotted so far: work from an interested citizen, academics, an NGO, and intelligence agencies. Plus the aforementioned UN investigation report, and some other odds and ends.

Judge for yourself what’s trustworthy and compelling. Does the open-source material better the official stuff? Is this another milestone event in societal verification?

If there’s something good that we’ve missed, please use the comments feature!

UN Syrian Chemical Weapons Report | The final report released by the UN Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, assisted by OPCW and WHO personnel.

Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons (US Dept. of State) | The press release describes in detail the framework for removal of chemical weapons from Syria.

Syria’s Chemical Weapons (Congressional Research Service) | ACW’s (formerly) very own Paul Kerr helped author this report on Syria’s use of chemical weapons during the civil war.

Brown Moses Blog | Painstaking analysis of the delivery systems used in the August 21st attacks.  It comes to similar conclusions to the other reports. Also see numerous previous posts on the subject.

Tesla CW Report (Richard M. Lloyd) | This report analyzes various photographs of suspected chemical attacks, noting the typical signs of chemical munitions (little impact damage on ground, minimal damage to front of weapon, etc.).

Analysis of August 21st Chemical Attacks (Theodore A. Postol) | This report offers a comprehensive analysis of both the motives that each side would have for using chemical munitions, as well as an overview of the weapons delivery system and the gas itself.

Attacks on Ghouta (Human Rights Watch) | HRW researchers reconstructed events and drew probable conclusions both about the agent involved (“Sarin or a similar weapons-grade nerve agent”) and the identity of the perpetrators (“Syrian government forces were almost certainly responsible”).

US Assessment on Syrian CW Use (WH Press Secretary) | The US Intelligence Community’s unclassified report on Syrian CW use.  Yes, they conclude that the August 21st attacks were carried out by Assad’s forces.

UK Intel Assessment on Syrian CW Use (Joint Intelligence Organisation) | The British equivalent of the above US report.  Note:

It is being claimed, including by the regime, that the attacks were either faked or undertaken by the Syrian Armed Opposition.  We have tested this assertion using a wide range of intelligence and open sources, and invited HMG and outside experts to help us establish whether such a thing is possible.   There is no credible intelligence or other evidence to substantiate the claims or the possession of CW by the opposition.  The JIC has therefore concluded that there are no plausible alternative scenarios to regime responsibility.

French Intel Report on Syrian CW Use (Cheryl Rofer) | Ms. Rofer provides a translation of France’s Intelligence report on the August 21st attacks.  Here is the original report, in French.


  1. John Schilling (History)

    That’s an awful lot of good information, unfortunately coming out just about the time there is no longer any use for it. But it’s interesting reading, at least.

    On the technical side, the unnamed 330mm sarin rocket looks more like a high-end improvised munition than anything a professional army would use, particularly for a mission as critical as CW delivery. It’s a decent fit for the Iranian Falagh-2 launcher, but it isn’t a Falagh-2 rocket, and it hasn’t been seen anywhere else. Materials and workmanship seem crude even by e.g. North Korean standards, the aerodynamics and probaly accuracy are poor, fuzing and dispersal likely far from optimal as well. The Syrians have proper 122mm and 140mm MRLs that would seem better suited to this sort of thing, so what’s the deal?

    I’m not suggesting this is a false-flag operation by the rebels, just trying to piece together how the Syrian army got to this point. I suspect part of the issue is that they never expected to be using chemical weapons in a tactical environment, as opposed to pointing them vaguely at distant Jerusalem, and so are using weapons that have been improvised to the new mission in the past year or so. I also suspect there is substantial compartmentalization within the Syrian Army, with the artillerists and rocketeers who might be best at delivering CW not actually being trusted with such. So maybe we are seeing rocketry as practiced by the regime’s most trusted chemists.

    No doubt everyone will be looking for signs of nerve gas residue; any chance someone might take a break for that and figure out what propellant was loaded into the rocket tube at the back of that thing?

    • Anon2 (History)


      You’re comparing artillery to missile delivery.

      If it was false flag, it seems to me more likely the rebels would have mixed and directly deployed the weapons without missiles or artillery as the ability to hide and then accurately aim a field gun is limited by the rebels, and the ability to program the guidance package of the missile is also limited.

      I also find the information useful as the U.S. and Russian policy implementors have to be thinking about how to accomplish their mission. The open source information may be at variance to their internal intelligence and serves to improve their knowledge and hence ability to achieve the desired outcome.

  2. j_kies (History)

    John; you’re relatively blessed by working in a domain of high end aerospace engineering; grimy munitions stuff especially in areas that the ‘big guys’ don’t play in isn’t anywhere near elegant.

    Richard Lloyd is a warhead designer by profession, note his commentary about the characteristics are deliberately limited to what you can actually observe from the photos. Also note your seeing stuff post impact, it probably looks much nicer pre-firing.

    If you read the description, the munitions may have been re-purposed from an HE/small FAE device. Given limited engineering of the deployment and limited testing; these are inefficient at agent deployment. The reasons that the combatants from WWI agreed to give up chemical warfare were largely that that pound for pound you kill people more effectively with high explosives.

    • Jeannick (History)

      High explosives are quite a disappointment when used against deep fortifications or urban rubble
      the battle of the Somme preparatory artillery pounding went on for days with mediocre results.
      some Pacific islands were plastered for weeks with not much effect as far as the assaulting marines could see .

    • Anon2 (History)


      With regard to disappoint at the Somme, this article says there was insufficient field artillery against an entrenched opponent:

      “When the battle was later analysed, it was realised that despite the apparently colossal build up of artillery and weight of firepower, it was still insufficient to suppress the defences and destroy the enemy’s ability to defend. The peak of artillery strength came just under a year later, at the Battle of Messines. In this highly successful battle, the British artillery had more than twice as many field guns per yard than at the Somme, and three times as much heavy artillery. In the first eight days of the Somme, 1.73m rounds were fired, of which a significant proportion were duds; at Messines, the comparable figure at Messines was 3.25m with far fewer failing to explode. At Messines, a much higher proportion of the effort was devoted to the destruction of the German artillery. It was at Verdun that the saying “artillery conquers, infantry occupies” was coined. And it was right: a hard lesson learned by all sides.”


      I am not an expert in artillery, but it seems to me to be a warfare engineering problem whereby a certain amount of explosive laid on target per square meter is necessary to achieve lethality knowing the radius of the lethal explosive burst against a trench.

      Furthermore, if an urban area is reduced to rubble; while there might be some survivors in basements, no one will be able to live there until shelter is rebuilt against the exposure to the weather and with water and sanitation needs. I have not examined areas decimated by Syrian Army artillery, but if it looks like Berlin after World War II, it is enough to make the civilian population leave even if the rebel fighters want to hide in the rubble of basements.

  3. George William Herbert (History)

    The volume of these semi-improvised rockets, about 50+ liters, is fairly significant. A whole lot of 140mm chemical warheads would be needed to match the delivered volume.

    Also; From the suspected launch location, the 140mm rockets that hit around the southern military air base (Al Moadameh / Darayya) would have overflown government held territory, the most sensitive government compounds, and very nearly the presidential palace on their flightpath. I cannot imagine anyone with authority to release for firing a CW firing a non-military-standardized rocket round over their own leadership on its way to the target area. The Al Moadameh rockets would have hit the Al-Mezzah military airfield if they landed short, and the helicopters there are a big part of the Syrian air control over the capital. Even with short-lifetime Sarin, downing their own air cover by dropping a M14 rocket onto the wrong tarmac would be bad enough; dropping one of those poorly controlled improvised 330mm ones? ..

    However, most of the trajectory of the 330mm units from Mt Qasioun to Eyn Tarma / Zamalka etc target areas was over contested or rebel held territory. Low risk of killing the wrong people there, should a rocket go off course. In fact, the target grouping looks like a couple of them could well have been off course.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      As nobody else has looked into this, I am now starting a tech workup on the rocket performance of the 330mm chemical rockets, to try and get some bounds on range and accuracy…

      Warhead performance is being worked on by many others, but not the flight characteristics, etc.

    • Hippo1 (History)

      It will be very interesting to see what you come up with. To a laymen the the “330mm” weapon just doesn’t appear to be stable, particularly if Postol is correct about it carrying 100lb of Sarin. That is a very large warhead when compared to other rockets of similar diameter and it just looks top-heavy and not particularly aerodynamic.

    • John Schilling (History)

      “Top-heavy” is actually a good thing when it comes to aerodynamic stability. Remember, the thing isn’t actually trying to balance on that rocket tube like it was a pogo stick; the propulsive force goes through the center of mass no matter which way it winds up pointing. What matters for aerodynamic stability is whether the center of mass is ahead of the center of pressure, and a heavy payload up front with some fins in the back on a long boom is a good way to accomplish that.

      The problem I have with the Nameless 330, on the aerodynamic front, is that the cylindrical payload section has a blunt, flat trailing face. Counterintuitively, a blunt forebody doesn’t much hurt, but the blunt trailing face means you have a turbulent recirculation zone behind the payload – and right in front of (possibly encompassing) the stabilizing fins. More drag, less stability, and virtually impossible to model or predict.

      Every professionally-made piece of ordnance I have seen with a generally similar configuration, either has folding fins that extend into the undisturbed airstream or at least adds a sheet-metal tailcone to the base of the payload section. See, e.g., the WW2-era Hedgehog and Mousetrap ASW projectors: both designed for extremely short-range use under circumstances of absolute urgency, but still including a tailcone ahead of the fins. Same deal with mortar cargo/illumination rounds, or gun-launched HEAT rounds.

      Apparently, it worked for Syria, though since we don’t know the actual aimpoints we don’t really know how well. The thought still terrifies me, and I still maintain that this was a weapon designed by people with a minimal understanding of ballistics and probably inadequately tested. Plausible for an in-house, compartmentalized project of the Syrian Army Chemical Weapons Corps or whatever.