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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Chlorine Tank Used on Khattab in March, 2017

Rebel CW Use in their Hama Offensive?
October 25, 2017
(rough, incomplete) 
edits 10/26

I've been reviewing videos of the March, 2017 Islamist rebel offensive in Hama province. Between March 21 and 24, jihadists led by HTS (Al-Namechange Front) overran government defenses north of Hama city and took control over over a dozen towns and surrounding areas and roads, circling Christian-majority Mahradeh, re-capturing Souran, invading Qomhana, and threatening the Hama military airport as they exapnded almost to Hama city limits. I didn't follow closely at the time, but it comes up as interesting in how it preceded by mere days a string of murky chemical attacks not far away.

They also reportedly took hundreds of civilians hostage, but this is ignored as Western media as HRW cheered the successful offensive that might have provoked the coming chemical attacks. All this was routed with a Syrian counter-offensive, re-taking all gains by the end of the March, and then taking towns rebels held before, to push their front-lines further back and help avoid a recurrence. Above is my mapping of the conquest (incomplete, from middling research - blog post on this forthcoming)

One of the more sizeable gains  was the town of Khattab, from which people were said to be abducted. It fell on March 22. Al-Jazeera obtained this video in Khattab on March 23. Note: Michael Kobs has geolocated it to be sure. At the beginning of the video is a much-seen walled area and a water tower, which he located so, in the southwest yet central part of Khatab (Bing maps).  In views that turn to the right, A mountain is seen in the distance. Kobs finds this is to to the east - Mt. Zayn al-Abdeen (see map), an important target of the rebel offensive they apparently failed to ever take. The black sign here seems to say مجـلس جلحقخطـاب  which translates board of directors or, like, city council? This sign looks aged and perhaps damaged in the takeover. Other black signs they show look to me like something Jihadists would put up, and mostly look new, but maybe this is just the style...

At 0:53 we see this scene - an apparent town-center army post heavily damaged, some power poles knocked over, rubble, etc. The walled board of director's compound also is immediately off-frame to the right. In fact the gate seen on the right seems to lead into the buildings walled in here.

And on the right side of this view right next to that gate into the "board of directors" compound, is an odd gold-yellow cylinder of some size, kind of rolled off to the side. The color, shape, and size of this object are quite noteworthy, although no one here notes it.

<Add 10-26>As Andrew notes in comments, this April 24 SMART news video shows the same tank a bit closer, as a few civilians start walking in the open again (0:08). This view is closer and clearer and is so far the best view. Another video from AFP Arabic shows it from a greater distance at 0:25 and 0:38.Both views are shown below <end 10/26>

It looks very much like the chlorine gas cylinders allegedly dropped from government helicopters onto innocent civilians, especially in this area (Hama-Idlib province border). There hadn't been any such allegations very recently, but the first of the year was about to come, just two days after this video was filmed.

Such a tank reportedly fell and punched through the rock-dirt-concrete roof over their bunker cave hospital, just a bit north, in al-Latamnah, on March 25. It's said the gas killed three, including a surgeon. At right, the deformed impacting end of this. That would be the top end, standing upright. There's a fill valve, and closer up engraved markings for chlorine (CL), and the maker, Norinco of China. The size of this is, I think, 44-liter, a standard size for light industrial use.

Another of the same apparent style (but seen in less detail - right) would be seen after a reported March 30 attack in Latamnah, as other attacks were reported in the area on the 26th, April 3, and April 6. This campaign would segue - from the start in some ways - into sarin's deadly return, shocking the world anew with the April 4 Khan Sheikhoun attack that killed nearly a hundred, including dozens of children. (all attacks and strange patterns explored here at ACLOS)

In the view above, we see the bottom end of this tank style, as normally stood. This has a curved end to the actual tank, but ringed with a deep rim that lets it stand upright. That rim also has small holes drilled in it, maybe just two, so they can be fastened with cables, etc. This is all factory normal design, as far as I know. Now, let's compare the Khattab cylinder compare to the Latamnah cave hospital one seen from a similar angle (once-flipped).
That's a pretty uncanny similarity. The shape may appear a bit too short or fat, but there's foreshortening in the angle we see it at, and an apparent bend, distorting its shape a bit. It will be longer than it appears, probably to the degree that it matches up fine.  Size: No way I'm adept at to get an exact measure. Visually, it's about the same, most of the size of an adult male. Different models have been used, but these two are the same style, or darn close.

If this is the same thing rebels usually have coming out of helicopters, laying around after on of their military assaults, there are a few possible interpretations:
1) The regime had it laying around, planning to load it into a helicopter somewhere else, to drop on innocents, and rebels found it. That's pretty dumb. 
2) The regime dropped it on rebels here after they took over but prior to this video. (con: using the first drop in their planned campaign to help counter the surprise offensive would be odd, and rebels never reported such an event as a chlorine attack on them in Khattab on 3-23.)
3) The rebels launched it against government forces to facilitate their takeover - and that's why they didn't report it. (con: Syria never reported it - but there's a lot of complaining they don't bother with. It suggests rebels are lying about these chlorine tanks and who's using them to win the war on various fronts. To me that's no con. Notice this is the option I bolded.)

Petri Krohn suggests here at ACLOS a little-known follow-up to the Hell Cannon that launches much larger projectiles this size or bigger. (needs more study, some proof, images, etc. - seems scarce by my first look) If they had such a thing, and it launches straight up, the projectile would come down almost like from a low-flying helicopter. There's no reason to use that trick here with the Khattab canister - this would be normal weapon usage at whatever angle makes sense to get it to the target. It could be what knocked in one of those walls on this possible army position, filling the room with choking gas. But then why would it be way over here later on? It may have hit in the street and filled the intersection with gas, or it might have failed to break open at all. More than likely, no one died from this, but it might have choked a few, military and civilian, and contributed to panic and a sense of needing to flee the town as rebels closed in.

In a little more detail now ...
The same kind of cylinder, apparently, was also used, with apparent additions welded on, in Aleppo last year. Here are 3 cases compared - March 25, March 30 (or maybe 26) in al-Latamnah, and Aleppo on November 20 of last year. There are likely more examples, but this is good for now (from various images from "Syrian Civil Defense" "White Helmets," SMART News, Al-Jazeera, etc. 

In all three cases, we see one end of the tank is intact - the rimmed bottom. In each case, it's this end that's intact and the top/nozzle end that impacts. I'm not sure if that provesd anything, but it might matter in considering if these were fired from a device this way or dropped this way, and managed to land this way, despite having no attached fins, etc.  The valve end might be heavier, of course...

So... this is most likely the same kind of gas cylinder. But this is seen two and probably used three days earlier than the yellow tank's first public appearance of the year. Is the Khattab cylinder an unreported early deployment, a prelude to the planned chemical campaign? It doesn't seem clearly sinister enough for that, does it? Targeting rebel fighters who just overran a town?

Reviewing the image from Khattab, we see the bottom end, not the usually-distorted top. Seen the other way, it could well match to the kind of rupturing seen on 3-25, if not the more massive tearing with the other two examples. It could be as ripped as the 3-30 example, which we can see appears just as intact as this, when seen from a similar angle. There does seem to be a mild distortion here, a sort of an overall bend nearer the top end, however. In an opposite situation, researchers at Human Rights Watch, for example, would take this alone as proof it fell from a government helicopter. 

It could be more intact than usual, and not look not quite so dropped-from-a-helicopter as the other cases. Maybe that's because in this case it wasn't, and it also wasn't being used in order to look that way (fired nearly straight up to fall as far down as possible). Here, maybe it was just fired like regular artillery in the offensive, at a moderate angle and mid-distance to hit this army position and/or the "board of directors" compound.

<Add 10/26>The evidence is it did rupture, but differently than in the other cases. Note that wherever it tears open and chlorine gas is released, the metal becomes rusted. This is known to happen as the gas contacts ambient moisture and turns to hydrochloric acid. The top and bottom end of the Khattab cylinder appear rust-free, while the bent middle, and the lower side up to the top end, appear to be marked by rust. <end 10/26>

If so, wouldn't they hide it? Maybe. Maybe four others they used were hidden, or just happened to go unseen. Or 10 or 30 others, or none. But of course the foreign-sponsored Islamist rebels don't even have to bother covering up their crimes; simply rolling the large yellow tank off to the side seemed sufficient, from their past experience with accountability. This chemical stuff might be a mundane part of their warfare by now, just like deceiving their infidel sponsors across the globe, pursuing Wahabbi Islamism and genocide in Syria, and raiding cities for hostages just before each of their most serious CW allegations.


  1. "...or dropped this way, and managed to land this way, despite having no attached fins, etc. ..." That's a very interesting point here. Fins are usually applied to bombs because without the air resistance of the fins they would stumble down and the rate of failing fuses would be pretty high.
    Compare http://brown-moses.blogspot.de/2013/12/syrias-barrel-bomb-technology-relative.html
    Higgins wrote: "If we assume the probability of the fuse working correctly is 75% and the cylindrical barrel bomb has 6 sides, then given random tumbling, the probability of success is 1/6 or 16.6% given 100% reliability of the fuse."
    The same logic should apply to yellow gas cylinders without any fins. A gas cylinder doesn't need a fuse. However, you hardly find such a yellow cylinder that failed to impact with the valve side.

  2. Assuming someone has a Hell Cannon that can fire a chlorine cylinder 1 km in the air...

    - does the story of the cylinder falling from the air and breaking through the roof of the al-Latamnah cave hospital make sense? Can it be dismissed prima face based on the White Helmets evidence?

    If so, then the cylinder must have come from somewhere else. It was likely deformed one or two days before it was filmed in al-Latamnah on March 25th. From where?

    Is it actually the same cylinder as seen in Khattab? After comparing photographs I now think it is the same.

    1. Tou mean the same exact tank just scooped up and re-used? No, I don't see that. Note rust appears where the chlorine is released - it rusts metal. In Latamnah, at the split end of a straight-seeming cylinder. Here in Khattab, apparently, around the bend in the middle (at least).

    2. I meant "tu mean," speaking in half Latin, I think, where tu means you. :) And by re-used I mean planted/displayed for a fresh allegation, not re-filled and re-fired.

  3. This video has a (slightly) better view of the cylinder


    1. I've seen that video but didn't review it after noticing the cylinder, so thanks. I reviewed some videos I'd seen and watched some more. So far this seems the best view.

      - AFP Arabic sees it at 0:25, 0:38, distant https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2_qONqDK9I

      That's it to add so far.
      - Syrian Press Center 3-23 - pans over area with cylinder from up close, but seems to pan up to avoid showing it. It would have shown the impact end, very useful.

    2. Looks to be cropped out of the Smart photo too

      Related to Bellingcat article today on Latamneh remnants, I don't know if this is right or already on ACLOS but just wanted to run it by you


      Am I seeing things or is that the 'cap'.. in the crater again? What would be the chance of that happening with 2 air dropped bombs in a row?

    3. SMART News, smart move. Some people know not to show it. They never heard about a regime chlorine attack either, so they find it awkward that a tank is laying there.

      Bellingcat put up something? I was waiting for that. I guess what this says is that's the same scrap, first buried with that bit sticking out, then unearthed. If you mean twice in a row including Khan Sheikhoun, fair question. The cap looks very similar or even the same, down to having one tool hole uncovered (or so it appears). And yeah, in both cases that piece winds up in the crater, Here, at least it doesn't look just laid there.

    4. Incredibly, according to the JIM report floating around on twitter, it isn't just any filler cap but..

      "According to information obtained by the Mechanism, the filler cap, with two closure plugs, is uniquely consistent with Syrian chemical aerial bombs"

      Not just using the same sarin production method but also unique chemical bomb filler caps...! That are, of course, the only fragment that seems to consistently survive inside the crater.

      They don't seem to have al-Hussein's video of 'smoke over the northern neighbourhood after the first flyover' either... on first read they haven't really explained much at all, just been rather more sympathetic to opposition than government in the way they explain inconsistencies.

    5. The "Chemistry" section of the report is probably most interesting.

      It doesn't explain any of my questions about the timing, remnants and testimony (or the logic) so a bit disappointing, with all their monitoring the attack timing still seems quite vague - "between 0630 and 0700 hours".

      The FFM don't seem to have known about unique Syrian chemical bomb filler caps, I wonder who provided the information about that? Stating it was an "aerial bomb" but being unable to "completely rule out" an IED seems a bit of a contradiction too.

      Reading it, the OPCW never received the remnants? So how can they even say the cap and 'pipe' were connected to a sarin bomb? It seems to be just videos and photographs?

    6. As well as the 'cap' changing mid-report from a "metal object that appeared to be a munition filler cap" to "the filler cap from a chemical munition", the 'large metal object with burster charge travelling at high velocity that makes a crater and will shatter into tiny pieces when it hits' doing no damage to a metal box (and pillar in the middle of the road the OPCW ignored) next to the impact seems a bit questionable?

      Dan Kaszeta said "Fragments of the bomb will fly in every direction, as can be expected. These fragments are likely to have some amount of Sarin liquid on them. The fragments are ejected from the explosion and some may be flying at high speed and could embed themselves in material, such as the ground or into building materials"

      The 'expert' even describes it as a "relatively large bomb" (so large amount of fragments?) - it seems to be the same expert who uses the box as proof of a chemical bomb and argues against the crater being dug or made by explosives on the ground. An expert who really wanted it to be an air dropped chemical bomb it seems.

      As noted by Micha Kobs/ACLOS, the contents of the crater have already been disturbed before they are ever seen. The SCJF report (seems to have been deleted) quotes Ahmad Islam "I approached the area of the explosion of the missile that carried toxic gases and began collecting some shrapnel from the rocket when suddenly I felt shortness of breath and poor vision and then lost consciousness" - there wasn't anything to stop people interfering with fragments at the scene and at least one person admits they did. But the experts are basing their analysis on what they see in the crater (fragments that can't have even been tested to make sure they are related to the sarin)?

      Also "Expert analysis of satellite imagery available to the Mechanism taken of Khan Shaykhun on 21 February 2017 and 6 April 2017"

      but they have images from the 3rd:

      "based on satellite images of 3 April 2017, which do not show the presence of the crater at that time"

      so why do an analysis on an image from Feb 21st instead?

      Would fake victims, treatment and sample testing videos be accepted as 'a bit unprofessional' if the Syrian gov had provided them?

    7. Good questions, now on a subject with its own post. As for lack of damage, recall it wasn't supposed to be an explosive bomb. It would break up on impact and somewhat with the opening charge, and would scatter a bit in each direction but especially forward, if it were flying instead of falling. Looks to me like the decorative statue to the west was stained black and maybe chipped, pavement around it (to SW of impact) seem chipped. Electric box seems untouched (could have minor dents). I suspect this rocket came in from the northeast (just did an analysis suggesting from ~52 deg. on the compass) and caused about as much damage as it should - minimal. I'm no expert, but that seems likely to me.

  4. 3 sharp minds commenting already. Very cool.

    MK, thanks. I won't be calling this possibility, but glad to have it seconded as a good question at least.

    Petri: I don't know what it must have passed through, come to think of it. Just a reinforced concrete section is no problem. Thin cover adds little. But 2 feet of limestone ... that to me makes no sense. And even if it makes sense, the scene is questionable and the tank quite likely planted, with something else specially designed punching to hole. (means the witnesses are liars, but they often are).

  5. On the launching of tanks - not sure if this helps, but it looked interesting to me.

    Free Army of Idlib Preface to the Assad forces inside the town of Khattab in the northern suburb of Hama
    March 21 (day before takeover) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=siqBrMZpxs4

    firing rockets made out of 44-liter cylinders? Not the same kind discussed here, but similar - seems to have three little legs at both ends, has sharp fins around a tube welded on one end, and a pointed rocket warhead attached, screwed in to the other end. A few of these are fired from a collapsible chute after a familiar-looking tube thing is jammed into the tail assembly.


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