Syria Chemical Warfare

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  • #1
epenguin
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At this scientific site it should be possible to get some better informed considerations than I am finding elsewhere about the probabilities concerning what has happened in Syria.

There appears little doubt that a population has suffered an attack involving probably sarin, and I think mustard gas has been mentioned.

But then there have been doubts, indeed polemics, about who did the attack. The published US Government assessment .

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/08/30/government-assessment-syrian-government-s-use-chemical-weapons-august-21

does not identify a smoking gun. The forthcoming UN inspectors' report is not expected to try and identify the attacker. But it may contain indications from which we could reason out probabilities.

In all the polemics I have seen so far (outside this site) the opinion of everyone appears determined by their political orientation and loyalties and what they want to be true, what they would like, or would best suit them, to be true. I would like to hear something more fact and knowledge-based here.

For me a crucial part would be this paragraph:

Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the Damascus suburb of ‘Adra from Sunday, August 18 until early in the morning on Wednesday, August 21 near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin. On August 21, a Syrian regime element prepared for a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus area, including through the utilization of gas masks. Our intelligence sources in the Damascus area did not detect any indications in the days prior to the attack that opposition affiliates were planning to use chemical weapons.


Mixing? I know that modern chemical weapons are designed to be binary, i.e. the toxic agent is not carried about as such, but created by mixing precursors. Maybe they are mixed when needed or soon before? That implies well trained and officered troops, and implicates the regular army surely? Or regular units that have switched sides. However the document just says 'mixing' without explanation. As if everyone knew about it. Any comments?

Then I read in Wikipedia that, I don't know how usually, the mixing takes place inside the projectile shell. That implies that it is the side which has artillery, pretty much only the government side and it has certainly used it a lot.

The idea of binary weapons is safer storage. Can we infer that this has not been an accident? Or could the estimated 1,400 deaths from accidental shelling of storage facility and is just a fraction as dreadful as it cluld hve been with more primitive weapons?
 
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  • #2
lisab
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Just a note - we already have a thread that is focused on the political side of the Syrian conflict here:

https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=688219

If this thread leans more toward the science behind chemical weapons, then it makes sense to keep it separate. So if you have a political comment please post it in the other thread.

Thanks.
 
  • #3
russ_watters
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It is a difficult question to answer. The white house brief basically tells us it has evidence and roughly describes it, but doesn't show it to us. Other countries' official statements look similar. So it is largely a question of who you believe (Russia and Syria or the entire Western world).

What you CAN get in the public domain though are things like location, size/scale, who was targeted, and official responses.
 
  • #4
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Here is an interesting article from the Scientific American.


Fragments of the weapons will be on site in the same places where inspectors will be digging up soil samples for evidence of sarin, he says. The materials composing the rockets could differ depending on who made them, thereby pointing a finger at who deployed them.
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=who-made-the-sarin
 
  • #5
chemisttree
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Sarin is usually employed as a binary system. Methylphosphonyl difluoride plus isopropyl alcohol. Not so sophisticated that a college student couldn't pull it off given the ingredients. It doesn't require sophisticated artillery although both sides are known to have delivery systems that work. The rebel side pulled it off last May.

What if they find a stabilizer like isopropylamine or pyridine in their samples? What if they find diisopropyl methylphosphonate (DIMP) or methylphosphonyl difluoride (DP)? Or diisopropylcarbodiimide (DIC)? It means nothing unless you think that the rebels are so clueless as to not know how to research what is well-known about Sarin on the internet! You think the rebels don't have chemists on their side? Do they not have wealthy and chemically savvy supporters around the world like Saudi Arabia and the UAE? The presence or absence of these compounds tells us absolutely nothing as to their source anyway. Without samples of the stockpile or of samples freshly prepared by Syrian Government troops, we can say nothing at all about the source. Does the Syrian Government use stabilizers or are the munitions freshly prepared and used immediately without stabilizers? What are their methods and what is the purity of the materials the Government uses? If the Government uses stabilizers, what stabilizer do they use from the world of potential candidates? Do the Syrians have their own particular recipes that they and they alone utilize?

No answers are known for any of these questions. In fact, the Syrian Government only today even admitted that they even have Sarin in their inventory! And we should remember that last May's Sarin attack was attributed to the rebels.

I would be very suspicious of statements like, "Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the Damascus suburb of ‘Adra from Sunday, August 18 until early in the morning on Wednesday, August 21 near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin." Such a statement boggles the mind! Near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons in a suburb of Damascus? Are there signs? Do the chemical weapons personnel wear easily identifiable uniforms that everyone is aware of? This ain't the way it happens, folks!

"Near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons!" That's some hilarious propaganda from our White House!

On the ground in Syria comes this report from Syrian activists.
Only a secret group of regime insiders is aware of the location of the regime’s chemical weapons. “Even the people in the [Syrian government] ministries don’t know who these people are or where the chemicals are mixed,” said Sami Ibrahim, a Damascus-based spokesman for the Syrian Network for Human Rights.
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/aug/30/troops-led-assads-brother-likely-blame-chemical-we/?page=all

It's from the same article that quotes our White House propaganda.

So how does the Obama regime know so much? This isn't a case of who are going to believe, Us or Them. Look at the totality of what is being reported by all sides and try to determine if we can know anything at all. I think we can never know for sure.
 
  • #7
chemisttree
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I think this report is as close to a smoking gun as we will get without disclosing any classified intelligence to the media. I've seen pictures and Youtube videos of these 330 mm rockets that reportedly have the hallmarks of chemical or liquid fittings in the payload section. The remains of several of these shown in Youtube videos have visual traces of white powder, brown/tan solids, brownish surface staining of the internal components and no apparent residue at all. Perhaps this is a multi-use delivery system believed to be used only by the Syrian forces.

My opinion is that it is likely Syrian forces but the timing of the attack and the presence of UN inspectors nearby have me puzzled as to why the Syrians would do this? The only apparent winners in this scenario are the rebels. And the Syrian Government would be well aware of the down side from this type of attack since they have been under scrutiny lately for just these types of attacks. It smells fishy to me. Just like the putative isopropyl amine stabilizer yet to be found among the residue.
 
  • #8
russ_watters
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The only apparent winners in this scenario are the rebels.
The dead ones?
 
  • #9
epenguin
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I think this report is as close to a smoking gun as we will get without disclosing any classified intelligence to the media.
Is there any more text that goes with that? (I see mostly images and captions). The lack of it will make it hard for the ordinary person to even understand what is being said, claimed, or inferred.
 
  • #10
nsaspook
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Is there any more text that goes with that? (I see mostly images and captions). The lack of it will make it hard for the ordinary person to even understand what is being said, claimed, or inferred.
I think the images and captions explain clearly what we are seeing. An 'ordinary' person who can't understand this won't be helped by more text.
 
  • #11
turbo
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While chemical agents/nerve gas, etc kill indiscriminately, they dissipate. Compare this to the use of cluster munitions with bomblets that can maim or kill years after the fact. The use of chemical weapons is reprehensible, but at least little children don't get their feet or legs blown off years later, just by walking across a vacant lot. The people who see a "red line" might want to adjust their goggles a bit.

War sucks and indiscriminate killing sucks even worse.


It would be nice to gain some perspective before citing the use of chemical weapons as a justification for attacking the Assad regime.
 
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  • #12
mheslep
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According to the Rand study on WMD scenarios (appendix A), a chemical agent like sarin which has been aerosolized by a professional trained to use it (like a Syrian agent) in major city would kill or injure 50% of the people in an ellipsoid with long axis 1.5 km from the point of release. Anthrax released from a small aircraft over a similar city would kill 125K to 250K people. There is no comparison of these types of attacks to traditional explosive munitions like cluster bombs.
 
  • #13
chemisttree
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The UN report has been published. Pretty light on the details IMO but certain about who used the CW. I thought the UN report wasn't going to make any conclusions about which side was the source of the CW?

Interesting that so much has been made of the presence of stabilizers indicating a sophisticated user (I don't agree) which would indicate Syrian government use yet none of the tests were positive for stabilizers. The conclusions portion of the report refers to Appendix 7 for further discussion and then? The report says nothing about stabilizers. The only compound that might be remotely related to a stabilizer is hexamethylenetetraamine which is reported in a fair number of the samples. Of course it is also a component of RDX which is HE not CW. There's probably that residue everywhere there have been rocket attacks and artillery shelling so HMTA isn't a smoking gun either way.

Results were apparently based on the direction of fire and the amounts used. Not an airtight case at all, IMO.
 
  • #14
russ_watters
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The UN report has been published. Pretty light on the details IMO but certain about who used the CW. I thought the UN report wasn't going to make any conclusions about which side was the source of the CW?
You didn't link the report, you linked an article about the report. Other articles about the report I've read said that the report didn't say specifically who perpetrated it, but it provided evidence that shows it.
 
  • #15
lisab
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You didn't link the report, you linked an article about the report. Other articles about the report I've read said that the report didn't say specifically who perpetrated it, but it provided evidence that shows it.
That's what I heard on NPR, driving home tonight. My guess is, political forces don't allow the investigators to be forthcoming. So they say things like, "...a 140-mm Soviet era rocket capable of delivering Sarin was used in the attack." (That's at 1:10 in this audio)

Pretty damning. Which is no surprise -- if Russia *truly* believed the rebels carried out this attack, why would they propose taking weapons away from Assad :confused:?
 
  • #16
chemisttree
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You didn't link the report, you linked an article about the report. Other articles about the report I've read said that the report didn't say specifically who perpetrated it, but it provided evidence that shows it.
There is a hotlink to the pdf of the report within the article. My Kindle automatically downloads it so I cannot easily provide the url for you. The word "report" in the article takes you there.
 
  • #17
chemisttree
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That's what I heard on NPR, driving home tonight. My guess is, political forces don't allow the investigators to be forthcoming. So they say things like, "...a 140-mm Soviet era rocket capable of delivering Sarin was used in the attack." (That's at 1:10 in this audio)

Pretty damning. Which is no surprise -- if Russia *truly* believed the rebels carried out this attack, why would they propose taking weapons away from Assad :confused:?
I've been reading/viewing the evidence about the 140mm rockets for several days now including the Human Rights Watch report. They report the presence of spent 140mm rocket motors but none of the payload portions or fragments thereof. The site was uncontrolled and the UN reports that both the site was well traversed by people prior to their arrival and that all of the samples were obviously handled numerous times prior to arrival.
 
  • #18
Office_Shredder
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Pretty damning. Which is no surprise -- if Russia *truly* believed the rebels carried out this attack, why would they propose taking weapons away from Assad :confused:?
There could be a couple reasons. One, if they don't then the US is going to attack Assad and things are going to be awkward whether or not he is innocent of the charge. Two, if they do take the weapons away in a transparent way and another attack occurs, they have a strong argument that the rebels are the ones gassing people.
 
  • #19
lisab
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There could be a couple reasons. One, if they don't then the US is going to attack Assad and things are going to be awkward whether or not he is innocent of the charge. Two, if they do take the weapons away in a transparent way and another attack occurs, they have a strong argument that the rebels are the ones gassing people.
Perhaps - either or both of those scenarios are possible, if a bit contrived.

It's also possible Assad did not order the attack, but someone in his organization did. And Assad absolutely can't wait to get rid of the stuff, since he has lost control of it. This is IMO, of course.
 
  • #20
chemisttree
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There could be a couple reasons. One, if they don't then the US is going to attack Assad and things are going to be awkward whether or not he is innocent of the charge. Two, if they do take the weapons away in a transparent way and another attack occurs, they have a strong argument that the rebels are the ones gassing people.
Or the simplest reason of all. The US will never attack during a negotiation or a protracted appearance of cooperation. I think Putin guessed well that Obama only wanted a way to save face under any circumstance so he and that idiot Kerry provided him one.
 
  • #21
lisab
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It's also possible Assad did not order the attack, but someone in his organization did. And Assad absolutely can't wait to get rid of the stuff, since he has lost control of it. This is IMO, of course.
Or the simplest reason of all. The US will never attack during a negotiation or a protracted appearance of cooperation. I think Putin guessed well that Obama only wanted a way to save face under any circumstance so he and that idiot Kerry provided him one.
Simple is surely in the eyes of the beholder. I find my suggestion much, much more likely.
 
  • #22
russ_watters
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There is a hotlink to the pdf of the report within the article. My Kindle automatically downloads it so I cannot easily provide the url for you. The word "report" in the article takes you there.
I'm aware. That wasn't my point. You commented that you didn't think the report was supposed to say who perpetrated it and my point was I don't think it did. But no, I didn't read it yet.
 
  • #23
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Whatever we speculate our vast system of drones as probably already provided an answer. I also read recently about a bombing of a childrens playground with napalm/napalm-like substance. A powder was recovered at the site, pointing to the former. I dont know the chenistry of napalm so I have no idea what it may be.


Either way, bombing a playground is ****ed up.

I dont care what the rules say, that is the only way to describe it.
 
  • #24
russ_watters
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Simple is surely in the eyes of the beholder. I find my suggestion much, much more likely.
I don't. I think Assad and Putin are somewhere together, drunk and laughing their as--butts off at how they were able to turn the tables and manipulate Obama into a weaker position instead of the stronger one Obama presented. I know a few pundits are giving Obama props for his show of force forcing them to the negotiating table, but that only works if Obama actually gets something from the negotiations and I think it more likely he'll be giving rather than getting. Already, the deal is breaking down.

Assad has demonstrated that using chemical weapons on your own people puts you in a stronger position in the world community, not a weaker one. It means you can use your chemical weapons to help put down the rebellion, then trade the weapons (or perhaps even just pretend to) for additional assistance from Russia and a promise from the US not to intervene! It is a great deal! Qaddafi is probably sitting next to Satan right now shaking his head that if he had used chemical weapons against his rebellion, he might still be alive.

Other murderous dictators are probably lining up to buy weapons from Russia now, complete with Russia's I-got-your-back guarantee.
 
  • #25
chemisttree
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I'm aware. That wasn't my point. You commented that you didn't think the report was supposed to say who perpetrated it and my point was I don't think it did. But no, I didn't read it yet.
Oh, I see. And no, you won't find a statement saying that the Syrian Gov't was the perpetrator but the evidence presented only shows weapon systems known to be used by gov't forces and the direction of fire leading back to gov't-controlled areas. The presence of those stabilizers that would be the smoking gun everyone has been talking about is mentioned for effect but if you dig a little you find the evidence and discussion totally lacking. This was done to point the finger squarely at the Syrian Gov't, thus my comment that it is certain as to the perpetrators.
 

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