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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Impact Site Number 4

Ghouta Chemical Massacre:
Firing Directions 
part 1: Impact Site Number 4
July 30, 2017 (incomplete, rough - edits Aug. 2, 12)

A UN report (PDF) issued shortly after the 2013 Ghouta attack seems to denote this as Impact Site Number 4, one of only five sites they were able to visit, and one of only three in the core Zamalka-Ain Tarma area of the East Ghouta attack. The location is pretty clear and agreed by everyone. 
Coordinates: 33º31'14.8”N 36º21'26.6”E

There was some cursory analysis of this at ACLOS, finding a possible direction by damage and burning, perhaps caused by the dome of fire caused by this FUEL-AIR EXPLOSIVE weapon (in which case it clearly could not have dispersed much sarin). At right, one view showing the main burned-ground area, which is also where the wall is knocked out for a second span. This can be seen on the left in the big panorama below, compared to rocket impact on the right (panorama by Chris Kabusk, 2014). 
Impact From the North?
At the time, I mapped these features as shown to the right. That suggested damage "dome" about 35-40 meters wide. Damage is heavy at impact (all mechanical?), and along the orange curve, with a suggested sort of "doughnut" of calm between them. I still don't know if this is how it works, but Petri Krohn, who knows a bit more, seems to agree this looks like an FAE blast. It impacted perhaps at an angle with the wall of 71° as shown, and thus a direction to firing spot of about 348° NNW.
This is far from exact, even dubious from a non-expert who still can't find good reference images for FAE blast damage patterns to compare... but it seems roughly the angle of the rocket body as seen on video.

"Sasa Wawa" at the important site Who Attacked Ghouta decided on a range of 60-70 degrees from the wall.  "Drawing a 60-70 degree angle to the wall on a satellite image gives us a northern trajectory," the two green lines shown, and "(The red trajectory is what the UN mistakenly reported)." (impact site analysis)

Indeed, the UN's provided angle would put it only about 5-10 degrees from the wall, which seems grossly wrong, doesn't it? We'll consider this in more detail below. I always though the green line range seemed about right, and the FAE clues had me favoring the upper end, or even a hair more to the north.

"Sasa Wawa" concluded from this an the other famous field impact that "The rockets were launched from a location north to Zamalka," and also noted how all 12 impacts seem to form a (rough) arc around a certain basic spot to the north-northwest. That's tempting, and about where I was. At right: "Sasa Wawa" graphic with my FAE-clue blue lines added. This could refine their brown firing area to my black area.

But ... even if one or two or three rockets were fired from this singular spot, it's not a clean and obvious arc of attack like we got with the Douma market attack in 2015. That mapping (explained here) is shown for good measure below, with helpful labels.

The red dots are exactly where the alleged missiles from jets impacted on separate passes, and always from the south, that we can tell. Signs suggest the rockets fired from the ground 800m south were fuel-air explosive. About 100 previously massacred people (see here or here) had their deaths blamed on this fake jet attack, almost surely by the Saudi-backed Jaish al-Islam group that dominates the area).

That's a clear and perfect arc (each firing at same distance, nothing but even turns of 11 degrees between them), with just one obvious center. In comparison to that, the West Ghouta attack has a fuzzy and ill-defined bean-shaped impact field. Distances were clearly varied, if there's one firing spot (a fuller knowledge of angles could say). And there might be a different direction for other rockets. 

Fired From the Northwest?
In fact, it seems likely there are two firing directions, or even more, involved in this Ghouta attack, with some coming from the north, and some - including this one - actually coming more from the northwest (but still on nothing like the UN's red line).

Michael Kobs on Twitter find from video analysis that the rocket's angle almost lines up with the last apartment building before a gap (see here), about the second window in, and this place does have an open ground floor at the corner, as shown (Google Earth, 2/10/2012 shows it well). Another view Kobs used in that analysis shows the rocket looking "straight up" or facing along the implied trajectory, lining up with this dark area, leading to the red-line linkage in the image shown here. 

This line runs well left of the lonely tree in between blocks (blue circle, inside a wall, at the end of the forward block). That yields a direction back of about 315°. This challenged where I was, but it seems about right, if debatable; perspective issues with the line-up between images might need considered more. I'd say it's maybe more towards the tree, so about 318-322°, or in or near that range. But this is getting more solid.

I noticed another view shows the rocket from a nice side-view, and helped set up the exact impact location in satellite views on Google Earth that partly show the relevant features. It seems almost half of this little building closest to impact is torn down, with a frame member holding the windows keeping the west half together. East wall: gone. South wall 1/3 gone, north wall 1/2 gone. 

That last section is about 1/2 windows (orange line), and one window-width to the east (app. same line, ground level) is where the trajectory crosses the wall, and just a hair out from that is where the rocket hit. The intact building corner gets a red line. It seems the same line from from this to impact center is also the line to the camera (marked in purple, all rough). 

So the trajectory, seeing it almost exactly from the side, will be perpendicular to this line of sight, so about like the gray bar crossing it (lower right inset, and sorry it's sloppy). This comes out 325 degrees, 48° from the wall. But it's not exactly a side-view. I assess the tail slants a little further away from the camera on the right side, making the approach angle a couple of degrees lower. 321-323° seems reasonable, and very close to the other good visual analysis by Kobs.

My FAE burn ring analysis is likely still valid, just incomplete. If I could see all the details, it would probably suggest the same path. 

All Estimates Compared:
Just the angle of the rocket tube relative to the wall is hard to measure, but likely key. As I measure it, the wall runs 277/97°. So here are all directions to origin, if angle with wall is:
90°=7° NNE (for reference)
71°=348° (my burn ring analysis, unreliable)
70°=347° NNW (Sasa Wawa upper)
65°=342° NNW (a low estimate I saw somewhere)
60°=337° NNW (SW lower)
55°=332° NNW (a low estimate I saw somewhere)
~45°=~322° NW (my side-view visual)
~38°=~315° NW (Michael Kobs line)
08°=285° WNW (Eight degrees. That's what UN investigators said, and it was "precise.")

Sasa Wawa's range still seems reasonable, but guessed with little close analysis, and apparently guessed high. My own estimates are 23 degrees apart. Not the best sign. Still, my later effort is good, and so is Kobs' at ten degrees different, and around 40°-50° is a best range, 70° is far off. Temptation to see this line merge with the other field pointing almost north might play into the northerly readings. But temptation aside, it's northwest, and we have two directions (unless the other northerly reading is wrong, which Kobs suspects but which I still doubt)

And eight degrees is way out there in "what?" territory. 

Did the UN really say that? Apparently.  
Eight degrees, or even five? When everyone else sees between 38 and 71? Can that be right? Yes. It seems this really is their reading; it must have come in nearly parallel to the wall, and if you had been there, you could see that plainly from the way it was aligned. You can't see it on a video of them being there, only from being there in person with Islamist minders looking over your shoulder and NATO folks, Turks, Saudis, and Israelis breathing down your neck. Sorry... a special and priveleged kind of science will emerge in such conditions. Outsiders cannot understand nor, obviously, can they challenge it.

United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, report released Sept, 16 (PDF link):
Of the five impact sites investigated by the mission, three do not present physical characteristics allowing a successful study of the trajectories followed by the rockets involved, due to the configuration of the impact places. However, Impact site number 1 (Moadamiyah) and Impact site number 4 (Ein Tarma) provide sufficient evidence to determine, with a sufficient degree of accuracy, the likely trajectory of the projectiles.
It seems they actually claim 3 of the five impacts do show a direction, with two of them in the distant Moadamiya attack in West Ghouta, using M14 artillery rockets instead of the larger rockets used in Zamalka. They specify only one: "Impact Site Number 1" but go on to mention an "Impact Site Number 2" nearby, with a similar and consistent reading. which we'll come back to...

So... this is impact sites 1 AND 2, besides #4, for a total of three that show direction, of the five sites total they looked at. This leaves only three sites possible in the East Ghouta area, out of a supposed 12. These would be the rooftop impact, another home interior they're seen examining (neither scene reliably placed), and the one field site they're seen at. They're clearly seen at no other sites except going to or from their vehicles or driving around. 

If so, there can be no confusion which rocket they refer to here - it's the same one examined above that seems to be come from somewhere in the range of 315-330, broadly and accurately, if not "precisely." If any of us had been there to measure it, we'd have a more exact answer almost surely in that range. The UN-OPCW folks or someone interpreting their findings failed to do that. Instead:
The projectile, in the last stage of its trajectory, hit the surface in an area of earthy, relatively soft, ground where the shaft/engine of the projectile remained dug in, undisturbed until investigated. The said shaft/engine, presenting no fonn [form] of lateral bending, pointed precisely in a bearing of 285 degrees that, again, represent a reverse azimuth to the trajectory followed by the rocket during its flight. It can be, thus, concluded that the original azimuth of the rocket trajectory had an azimuth of 105 degrees, in an East/Southeast trajectory.
Elsewhere in the report, they say the rockets appear to have come from an unspecified "northwest," which seems accurate enough. But the 285 only direction they published is barely northwest, just 15 degrees north of due west.

It's not supported by the actual scene, but this reading does have the handy feature of pointing towards the Syrian government's Republican Guard 104th Brigade base on Mount Qassioun, - 9.6 km from the Zamalka impacts, and 9.5 km to the Moadamiya impacts, as Human Rights Watch maps it. (right). The same UN report claims impacts there also showed direction clues pointing to the same base - see below)

The direction was taken, by HRW and others, as meaning the Zamalka-Ain Tarma rockets flew from that base almost 10km away. But as "Sasa Wawa" noted at the time,
"There are 2 major problems with the trajectory assumed for it: The range of a rocket with such poor aerodynamics, a large 60kg warhead, and a relatively small engine could never reach the 9km implied here. (Update: the UMLACA is now reliably estimated to have a range of 2.5 km).
This refers to the famous Lloyd-Postol report,  as first published by McClatchy News in January, 2014. These findings stand unchallenged as far as I know, and place the firing spot 4-5 times furthr away than these things could possibly fly. And the second big problem:
The report states the rocket points at azimuth 285. However, as shown here this implies a 5 degree angle to the wall, which the screenshots below (same scene shown above) show cannot be the case:"
I get 8 degrees, which is still about as far off - around 30 degrees or more off - from all reasonable readings.  

But before these and other problems were known, and people might feel more free to make things up - the direction claim and its implications were hungrily swallowed and defecated by the mainstream media's presstitutes. The unexplained specifics "buried" in the unbiased and reliable UN report report, were dug out easily and interpreted as implicating the government. This supposed fact was trumpeted in the following days.

Kevin Drum, Mother Jones, Sept 17, cites a map by BruceR who was quoted concluding:
The chances of this being some kind of attack by someone outside the Syrian government, already slim, basically have to drop to zero now, assuming you trust the UN’s facts as presented. That sounds about right. Added to all the other intelligence pointing in the same direction, there’s really no longer any case to be made that this was some kind of false-flag rebel operation. It was a chemical weapons attack mounted by the Assad government. Sorry, Rush.

Human Rights Watch's Josh Lyons was able to write on the 17th:
The UN inspectors investigating the chemical weapons attack on two suburbs in Damascus last month weren’t supposed to point the finger at the party responsible for the killings. But even so, the Sellstrom report revealed key details of the attack that strongly suggest the government is to blame, and may even help identify the location from which the Sarin-filled rockets that killed hundreds of people on August 21 were fired."
And HRW was there to notice it, and to produce the widely re-used graphic. They won't ever mention how it's a baseless claim that's scientifically impossible, and plainly contradicted by the visual evidence. It's got no apparent science behind it, other than maybe the science of falsely assigning blame just as the U.S. and allies were using that pre-decided blame to exert leverage on Syria and its allies. And HRW was there to help. Huh! 

C.J. Chivers, New York Times on the 18th heralded: "some of the strongest findings to date that suggest the government gassed its own people"  were simply "buried" (not planted) in  the report from investigators "instructed to investigate the attack but not to assign blame." But they "listed the precise compass directions of flight for two rocket strikes that appeared to lead back toward the government’s elite redoubt in Damascus, Mount Qasioun, which overlooks and protects neighborhoods and Mr. Assad’s presidential palace and where his Republican Guard and the army’s powerful Fourth Division are entrenched." A retired Lebanese general, Elias Hanna, told Chivers this was “It is the center of gravity of the regime, "... the core of the regime."

That sounds like John Kerry's "the heart of regime territory." Sept 4: "We are certain that none of the opposition has the weapons or capacity to effect a strike of this scale – particularly from the heart of regime territory."

WH press office, Aug 30: "Satellite detections" showed "rocket launches from regime controlled territory early in the morning, approximately 90 minutes before the first report of a chemical attack appeared in social media."
This itself is possible - it might be a different firing. 90 minutes is quite a while to presume it must be related. 

So this is what U.S. intel was saying in late Aug. early Sept. - distance vague, but from maps at the time,  app. 10 km from the true heart, 5-6 km from the edge, and whatever from any specific missile site, at least on the path the UN so "precisely" found. The suggested distance there is about 9km, depending from where in the base, etc.   ... proven impossible by a wide margin.
later, "precise" but grossly wrong readings are provided by UN investigators, and used to widely reinforce the false claims. How does this happen?

rough, and may be moved
where they claim to have observed "In the final stage of this trajectory, the projectile hit and pierced through a vegetal screen existing over one of the adjacent walls, before impacting the ground producing a shallow crater."
"The line linking the crater and the piercing in the vegetal screen can be conclusively established and has a bearing of 35 degrees. This line represents an inverse azimuth to the original trajectory of the rocket, that is to say, the original trajectory of the projectile, as it hit the ground, had an azimuth of 215 degrees.
Impact Site Number 2 is located 65 meters away from number I and with an azimuth of 214 degrees. Both relative positions are fully congruent with the dispersion pattern commonly associated with rockets launched from a single, multi-barrel, launcher.

Coincidentally, these also pointed to Mount Qassioun! 60% of impacts looked at point there, and the rest nowhere. But from what we can read, 100% point other directions, and none point to the Assad base that's too far away anyways.

Sasa Wawa Moadamiya site details:
First, a detailed analysis of the Moadamiyah site indicates that, (a) unlike Zamalka, there was probably no chemical attack at this site, (b) even if we assume there was one, there is no evidence tying the M14 to a chemical attack, (c) the UN trajectory calculation is based on a dent in the floor that is unlikely to be a rocket impact site, and (d) the UN speculate that the rocket has previously hit another building before reaching the site.
Sasa Wawa, Sept. 19

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