Tuesday, 31 December 2013

A Year Of Conflict In Syria In Ten Videos - 3 to 1

Earlier parts of this series can be found here and here.

3 - The "Hezbollah" Execution Video

At this stage in the conflict, execution videos are a fairly regular occurrence, but there was one video that reflected a significant change in the conflict, as well as demonstrating the value of open source research (graphic)

The above video was posted online, with many claiming it showed Hezbollah fighters in Syria executing captured and wounded opposition fighters.  In a pair of blog posts (here and herePhillip Smyth of Jihadology.net, who has specialised in studying Shia militias involvement in the conflict, investigated the video, and discovered a variety of different online sources that confirmed that these were Shia militia in Syria, although not specifically Hezbollah as some claimed.

For me this represents two things; the increasing involvement of Shia groups with fighting inside Syria as the conflict becomes increasingly sectarian; and the way in which open source information can be used to confirm the authenticity of images, and provide related information that's incredibly useful in understand the nature of conflict.

2 - The IRAM Mystery Solved

One thing I always like to stress when talking about using open source information like YouTube videos is there's a big difference between evidence and proof.  It's possible to collect plenty of evidence that supports a theory, but finding proof that theory is correct can be a different matter.

There's one munition that was something of a mystery, first spotted in October 2012.  These munitions, which at the time were called IRAMs (Improved Rocket Assisted Munitions), were 107mm artillery rockets, as used by the common Type-63 multiple rocket launcher, with the warhead replaced with a much larger warhead.  Whenever they appeared, it was claimed they were being fired at opposition forces by government forces, but some questioned that claim due to their apparent improvised nature.  I had collected a couple of dozen videos showing unexploded examples, but after nearly year I hadn't seen anything that could prove they were used by the government.

Thanks to the unique access of ANNA News to government forces, proof finally appeared on August 30th, when the below video showed IRAMs being loaded and fired by government forces (1:15)

In fact, all of a sudden there seemed to be plenty of the proof I had been looking for appearing online.  Aside from the above video, opposition forces captured the munitions at Khanasser near Aleppo, and the Syrian National Defence Force posted a video on their YouTube channel showing one in action.  Eventually I was even able to find out the name for the munitions, "Volcanoes", which as the next video demonstrates started another mystery.

1 - Everyone's Favourite Volcano

As anyone who is even vaguely familiar with this blog will know, I've spent a lot of time looking at the August 21st Sarin attack, in particular the munitions used, which shares the name "Volcano" with the IRAM type munition described above.  This was another example of having evidence, but not proof, that the government was using them, until one video was posted online by the Syrian National Defence Force

This video shows the same family of munitions linked to the August 21st Sarin attack being loaded into a single barrel launcher.  Continued investigation after the August 21st attack has uncovered evidence that's there's two different types of launchers, and two different sizes, this single barrel launcher firing the larger size.  The smaller twin-barrel launcher is seen at the start of this video of government forces filmed by Al Mayadeen TV, matching the type filmed repeatedly at Mezzeh airbase back in December 2012.

What's interesting about the above video posted by the NDF is how that particular video spread among different groups.  This video from the Damascus based SAMA TV shows the munition in action, a Facebook post (now deleted) about the munitions on a pro-Hezbollah page described them as "The pride of Lebanese industry", a Iraqi Shia Facebook group posted a fact sheet about them, and a recent video from Hezbollah sources features the NDF video heavily.  It's also interesting to note that it appears these videos from government sources only started to appear online after the threat of military action has subsided, even though there's evidence of them being used since late 2012.

There's still a lot to learn about these munitions, only recently have we had the best estimate for their range provided by Richard Lloyd and Ted Postol in the New York Times, and there's plenty more to be discovered, and it's likely that as with much of the information gathered on the munition so far, that'll be through open source information.  

The Arab Nationalist Guard: A Pro-Assad Militia

A guest post by Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi.


It is generally held that the ideology of Arab nationalism is virtually dead. At the governmental level, this assertion mostly holds true, with the Fatah-led regime of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank being the last real representative of old ideals of pan-Arab unity. However, on the ground, traditional Arab nationalists may be found in all the countries of the Middle East and North Africa. As it turns out, they have formed their own volunteer militia force to fight in Syria on behalf of the Assad regime: the Arab Nationalist Guard.

Figure 1: Emblem of the Arab Nationalist Guard.
A manifesto put out by an Arab Nationalist Guard activist of Egyptian origin explains the basics of the group’s existence as follows: “The Arab Nationalist Guard is a military resistance movement currently operating in the Syrian Arab Republic, established in April 2013 by a group of Arab Nationalist Youth from many Arab countries, currently including four battalions bearing the names of martyred leaders: Wadih Haddad, Haydar al-Amali, Mohamed Brahmi, and Jules Jammal. In total there are 50 resisting Arab battalions.”

Here, an explanation ought to be given of the significance of the names. Mohamed Brahmi was a secular Tunisian politician who founded the Arab nationalist and socialist People’s Movement after the overthrow of dictator Ben Ali in the Tunisian Revolution. He was subsequently assassinated by Islamists in July of this year.

Wadih Haddad was a Palestinian Christian and Arab nationalist militant in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, responsible for organizing plane hijackings in the late 1960s and 1970s. Jules Jammal was a legendary Syrian Arab Christian naval officer who supposedly sank a French ship during the Suez War in defense of Egypt for the cause of Arab nationalism, subject to much eulogy thereafter. Hayder al-Amali was a prominent modern Arab nationalist thinker and politician of Lebanese origin who died in 2007.


The group’s ideology, as can be inferred from the name, falls in line with traditional pan-Arab sentiments, with notions of Arab unity and anti-imperialism: “The Arab Nationalist Guard espouses Arab nationalist ideals, believing in the existence of a single Arab ummah, and the necessity of liberating and uniting it in a single political entity gathering all Arabs away from any sectarian, ethnic, or religious extremism; and thus is the necessity of confronting Zionism and colonialist trends that threaten the Arab nation with even more division than the current partition, exploitation of its resources and colonization.”

Concomitant with these ideals is an adoption of the Assad regime’s rhetoric. Thus the Arab Nationalist Guard emphasizes the need also “to confront all Takfiri movements that aim to strike our unity and aim to sow division.” Indeed, “As a result of the ideas of the Arab Nationalist Guard, there is participation in the defense of the Syrian Arab Republic, preserving its unity and supporting it in confronting the colonialist project that threatens it with internal collaborator Arab tools with Zionist-American support declaring an attempt to break Syrian bravery.” The group also unsurprisingly stresses the necessity of liberating Palestine.

The Arab Nationalist Guard reflects its ideology in imagery circulated on social media. Particular reverence is accorded to the 20th century’s foremost representative of the ideology of Arab nationalism: namely, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who in the Syrian context of pan-Arabism is particularly relevant on account of his project of the United Arab Republic (UAR): a union between Syria and Egypt in the period 1958-61 that used the same flag as that of the Assad regime in Syria today.

Other groups and figures that stand out for praise include late President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela (as a supposed symbol of anti-imperialism), Hezbollah (in keeping with the image of resistance to the West etc.), Saddam Hussein (for similar reasons) and of course, Bashar al-Assad.

Figure 2: Graphic in Arab Nationalist Guard circles commemorating Gamal Abdel Nasser, featuring an eagle symbolizing the flag of the UAR/Syria.
Figure 3: Another Arab Nationalist Guard graphic commemorating Gamal Abdel Nasser and the UAR: “The Northern Region: Damascus- The United Arab Republic- Cairo: The Southern Region.” 
Figure 4: One of many photos circulated in Arab Nationalist Guard social media featuring demonstrations for Palestine.
The Arab Nationalist Guard maintains links with the activist networks- by the name “Arab Nationalist Youth”- from which it draws recruits in a number of locations. Some of the more prominent places where Arab Nationalist Youth activity can be found include Sidon in Lebanon, Gaza and Egypt.

Figure 5: “Arab Nationalist Youth” event for Eid al-Fitr in Sidon in August. Note the identical logo to the Arab Nationalist Guard indicating that the Arab Nationalist Youth is simply the activist wing.
Figure 6: A young female activist for the Arab Nationalist Youth at the Eid event in Sidon.
Figure 7: Group photo for the Arab Nationalist Youth in Sidon.
Figure 8: Arab Nationalist Youth activists featured in some of the anti-Morsi demonstrations in Egypt at the end of June.
Figure 9: Arab Nationalist Youth activists in Gaza, December 2012.
Operations of the Arab Nationalist Guard in Syria

According to an Arab Nationalist Youth activist and subsequent fighter for the Arab Nationalist Guard, alternating his time between Sidon and Damascus, the Arab Nationalist Guard’s membership includes Arab nationalists from a variety of countries, including Egypt and Iraq.

At the same time, he claimed to me that the group has “fighters from all Syrian sects and welcomes all ethnicities of the Ummah from Arabs, Kurds and Amazigh (the Arab Maghreb) because we nationalists believe that the land is for all in it and we distance ourselves from chauvinism.” This apparent openness contrasts a great deal with Arab nationalist regimes’ actual historical record with regards to Kurdish and Berber minorities, whether Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or Muammar al-Qaddafi’s Libya (both figures revered in these circles anyway).

My contact added that the Arab Nationalist Guard, which cooperates closely with the Syrian army and the National Defense Force militia, operates in a number of areas of Syria, including Damascus, Deraa, Homs and Aleppo governorates. From the open-source evidence that has emerged, it would appear that Damascus province is the primary region of focus for the Arab Nationalist Guard, playing a role in the recent regime offensive on the Qalamoun area. Other areas of operation in Damascus province I have been able to identify- barring those mentioned in the photos below- encompass Mazara’ al-Qasimiya and Hatita al-Turkoman.

Figure 10: Arab Nationalist Guard fighters of the Mohamed Brahmi battalion in Qalamoun, Damascus province.
Figure 11: Arab Nationalist Guard members engage in outreach to locals in the regime stronghold of Jaramana, Damascus, during a funeral for one of its fighters.
Figure 12: Arab Nationalist Guard fighters in Damascus.
Figure 13: Screenshot from a video claiming Arab Nationalist Guard participation in the regime’s capture of as-Sabina al-Kubra in Damascus countryside in early November. Note that this video was set to the song “Fire your Guns, Show No Mercy” by pro-Hezbollah Lebanese Christian singer Julia Boutros.
Figure 14: Screenshot of Arab Nationalist Guard fighters from the same video.
Figure 15: Arab Nationalist Guard militiamen in an unknown location in Syria, but most likely Damascus province again.
Figure 16: Arab Nationalist Guard fighter in Damascus province.
Figure 17: Scenes of fighting in the areas of Damascus from an Arab Nationalist Guard video. Noteworthy is mention of participation in fighting in the district of Barza near the main city.

The Arab Nationalist Guard has its own claimed martyrs but sources connected to the group are unwilling to name many for “security reasons.” The same reason lies behind vagueness on areas of operation outside of Damascus province. Below are the most notable cases.

Figure 18: Aamer Eid Abdullah- “Abu Nasir”- “martyred in defense of the unity and nobility of the Syrian Arab Republic.” An Egyptian killed fighting in Qalamoun in November.
Figure 19: Scene from Jaramana for the November funeral of Arab Nationalist Guard commander Ahmad Othman (Abu Bakr al-Masri), originally from Cairo. Note the placard featuring Assad alongside Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Arab nationalism has lost much favor among governments in the Middle East and North Africa: indeed, even with the Assad regime itself and close associates, it is notable how there is an increasing emphasis in the discourse on claiming true Syrian identity, stressing use of Syrian dialect of Arabic and claiming a proud pre-Arab history (e.g. see this latest song by the Muqawama Suriya of Latakia- “Resist”- which mentions how “the history of the land witnessed the Byzantines, previously the Romans,” and avoids references to pan-Arab ideals).

However, for some on the ground in a number of Arab countries, whether Egypt (note especially as regards the anti-Muslim Brotherhood Tamarrod movement with reverence for Nasser) or Yemen, the ideology lives on, translating to support for Assad in spite of the ever growing Sunni-Shi’i sectarianism in regional discourse. Perhaps we should not be so surprised that old-fashioned Nasserites have ended up fighting in Syria.

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum and a student at Brasenose College, Oxford University. Website: http://www.aymennjawad.org. Twitter: @ajaltamimi

Monday, 23 December 2013

A Year Of Conflict In Syria In Ten Videos - 6 to 4

Part one of this series can be found here.

6 - Abu Sakkar

Probably the most notorious video of the conflict so far, the video posted online in May showed a member of the Syrian opposition, Abu Sakkar, stating that "we will eat your hearts and your livers, you soldiers of Bashar the dog!", then cutting out an organ from the corpse on the ground, and biting down on it.  There's many edited versions of the video online, here's an example of one of them

One thing that's interesting to note is the video that appeared online was actually edited before it was even posted.  Supposedly, the edited video was sent to pro-government groups as a threat, but earlier versions seen by various organisations also included direct threats to Alawites that were apparently removed before the video was sent out.

The media storm that followed this video was quite unique for any video coming from Syria, and Abu Sakkar rapidly became the poster boy for anti-opposition sentiments, with one individual's act being used to paint the opposition as "cannibal rebels", even by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who stated "one does not really need to support the people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their intestines in front of the public and cameras".  In the media storm that followed, Abu Sakkar even felt the need to justify his actions, claiming images on the dead man's phone of rape and child killing had been his motivation, and telling the BBC "I didn't want to do this. I had to.  We have to terrify the enemy, humiliate them, just as they do to us. Now, they won't dare be wherever Abu Sakkar is.".

Whatever motivation or justification Abu Sakkar claimed, in the public imagination he came to represent the darkest elements of the Syrian opposition, and the increasingly extreme nature of the conflict.

5 - Chasing White Grenades In Saraqeb

While many people who know my blog are no doubt very familiar with my work on the August 21st Sarin attack in Damascus, what many people are unaware of is my equally obsessive investigation into another alleged chemical attack in the town of Saraqeb, Idlib, on April 29th. One particularly unusual element of the attack was the delivery method, which was reportedly white grenades, as shown below

France had received samples from the scene of the attack which they claimed contained evidence of Sarin. Despite that, so many different details of the attack didn't make sense to me.  From piecing together various pieces of evidence (which I detailed here) I discovered the method of attack was claimed to be two white grenades, placed inside a breeze/cinder-block (the remains of which can be see here), which was then dropped from a helicopter, with the grenades apparently producing smoke as they fell.  This didn't seem to make sense if it was a Sarin attack; the grenades would have produced heat while producing smoke, and as Sarin is heat-sensitive it would have degrading the Sarin; the scale of the attack was tiny on areas with no obvious military value; and all-in-all it seemed like the most inefficient, awkward, and potentially self-endangering way of using Sarin.

In fact, I would have almost have dismissed the attack if it wasn't for another alleged Sarin attack two weeks earlier in Sheikh Maqsoud, Aleppo.  Again, there were reports of grenades dropped from helicopters, a small number of causalities, and photographs showing the same type of white grenade surrounded by the remains of what appears to be a disintegrated breeze/cinder-block.

To add to the confusion, a Jabhat al-Nusra member was photographed with the same type of grenade, and that led to the journalist Alfred Hackensberger hunting for the grenades in Syria, where he discovered most people knew them as just plain smoke grenades.

After that the trail went cold, with no more attacks using this unusual method reported, and I was inclined to think that the attacks were possibly not Sarin at all, but something else.  It wasn't until the final UN report on the use of chemical weapons was published that the agent used in the attack was possibly identified.  One victim of the Saraqeb was taken to Turkey, and her corpse was made available for testing to the investigation team.  They discovered her organs had traces of Sarin in them, and this seemed to strongly point towards Sarin being used in Saraqeb. While the report had little to say on Sheikh Maqsoud attack, it seems not unreasonable to assume the same chemical agent was used.

The question is then, why?  As I said before, the attacks were executed in a very unusual fashion, seemed capable of resulting in small numbers of causalities, and were on targets with no obvious military value.  So the question remains, why did the Syrian military go to the risk of delivering Sarin in such a self-endangering and seemingly pointless manner?

4 - Qatar, Sudan, China, And Missiles

Croatian weapons weren't the only arms smuggled to the Syrian opposition in 2013.  In February, a couple of months after the first sighting of Croatian weapons, Chinese FN-6 MANPADS (MAN Portable Air Defence Systems) started to appear in the east of the country

At the time it was unclear exactly where they had come from.  It was considered highly unlikely that the Western powers involved in the conflict would sign off on MANPADS being supplied to a fractured opposition, so one theory was they came from an as yet unknown stock of weapons supplied to the Syrian government by China.  However, several months later, the New York Times revealed Sudan had been selling the FN-6 MANPADS to Qatar, who had been supplying them to the opposition.  In fact, it also appears other Chinese weapons havd been provided by Sudan to Qatar, including Chinese HJ-8E ATGMs (Anti-Tank Guided Missiles), M99 anti-materiel rifles, QLZ-87 automatic grenade launchers, and other weapons.

Much like the Croatian weapons smuggling, this goes to show that YouTube can be the starting point of investigations that can uncover all sorts of newsworthy information.

The Rebel Offensives in East Ghouta: “The Battle of God is the Greatest and Most Honorable” (November 22nd-December 21st)

A guest post by Christopher Kingdon, founder of the SyrianCivilWar sub-Reddit.


This analysis addresses the southeastern Otaibah and northeastern Adra offensives, which together constitute Phase I of the rebels’ “Battle of God is the Greatest and Most Honorable” in East Ghouta:

  • How far south and west did the rebels reach in the Otaibah offensive?
  • Which of the captured towns do they still hold?
  • What divides the Adra offensive from the Otaibah offensive? 

What do we know?

In mid-November, the rebels were confined to a shrinking pocket in East Ghouta between Jirbeen to Hawsh al Shawaq to the north and Jisreen and al Bilaliyah to the south. In late November, things rapidly changed. This analysis focuses on events in eastern East Ghouta. 

Figure 1: State of Ghouta Siege on November 15th
On November 22nd, mainstream news outlets, including the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, reported fierce fighting in East Ghouta resulting in heavy casualties. On November 22nd, Haaretz reported “fierce fighting to the east of Damascus has killed more than 160 people in the past two days” (22nd-24th of November). In hindsight, this clearly signified the beginning of the Otaibah offensive - what we now know as Phase I. The Otaibah offensive was fought in the southeastern quadrant of East Ghouta and struck eastward from Al-Bilaliyah toward Otaibah. 

From November 22nd to December 15th, a media blackout descended over the rebel operations in East Ghouta (that is rebel activists no longer uploaded footage to YouTube or official reports given on social media). There were hints of an offensive eastward, but without sufficient footage to support rebel claims, very little to definitively work from. But now looking back after Ahrar ash-Sham’s footage dump on December 16th, it’s possible to create a chronology of the rebel offensive with some degree of confidence.

On December 11th, the rebels launched another offensive in East Ghouta from the northeastern quadrant: the Adra offensive. The Adra offensive struck northeast from Duma toward Adra. 

It should be noted that the situation in East Ghouta is clearly in flux. The battle lines change daily and the maps produced for this report should in no means be considered to be entirely accurate, though they do constitute a good representation of the general progress of the battle.
What is presented here is the evidence I have as of December 21st; it will of course be necessary to add corrections and update this analysis as the situation evolves and more data emerges.

The Otaibah Offensive and Government Counter-Offensive

The Otaibah offensive struck eastward from al Bilaliyah to Otaibah in southeastern East Ghouta. The official announcement of the completion of Phase I initially posted by @IslamArmy01 stated that Jund al Malah (Ahrah Ash-Sham, Jabhat al Nusra, Habib Mostapha, Shabab AlHoda, Katibat Issa ibn Mariam,) Jaysh al Islam and the Islamic Union of Sham Soldiers (Shabab al Hoda, Habibi Mostapha, Amjad al Islam, Al Sahaba, Dirii al Asima) collectively participated in the offensive.

Figure 2: Rebel Announcement of Completion of 1st Phase of Offensive

As Joshua Landis writes, “No mention is made of the newly announced Islamic Front. In this major battle driving regime forces from a large part of the Ghouta Ahrar al-Sham, let by Hassan Aboud is identified with Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaida affiliate. Jaysh al-Islam, which is led by Zahran Alloush is identified independently of Ahrar. This suggests that the Islamic Front alliance announced in November has not taken root, at least not yet.”

In the footage dump on December 16th, the rebels claim to have captured 40 square kilometers of East Ghouta (pretty accurate), killed 800 government soldiers (certainly inflated; the footage doesn’t show anywhere near that number, but heavy losses were definitely inflicted on government troops), destroyed 23 vehicles and captured 44 (once again, almost certainly inflated, but some government vehicles were destroyed and others were captured).      

After the footage dump on December 16th, it’s evident that the rebels deployed at least one self-propelled anti-air mount, (a ZSU-23-4 [Shilka]), several tanks, at least one BMP, and a variety of homemade and imported anti-tank weaponry. Scott Lucas of EAWorldView writes that Shilkas evidenced in some of the videos could offer some protection from aerial attacks.

Figure 3: A rebel Shilka in action in East Ghouta 

Now I turn to the geography of the offensive.

Al-Bilaliya, البلالية

Al-Bilaliya was on the front lines of the Ghouta siege throughout late October and much of November. On October 30th, Dimasqh Now reported government shelling on Al-Bilaliya.  On November 2nd the FSA military council of Damascus released a statement that al Bilaliyah was exposed to government attack. Between November 11th and November 19th, videos purported to show Jabhat al Nusra shelling government troops around Al-Bilaliya suggesting that government forces were fighting in the area of the town.

On November 23rd, Ak-Saler News reported that the rebels had gained control of Al-Bilaliyah. This was confirmed in the December 16th video dump with footage purporting to show the rebels fighting in the town, destroying a government outpost, and finally, a graphic video showing dead government troops. Since then, there have been no reports of the government recapturing the city. It can be concluded that the rebels still hold the town as of December 21st.

Qaysa, قيسا

On the 22nd of November, an official Jabhat al Nusra Twitter account @JbhatAlNusra, asserted that the group had seized the town of Qaysa. Qaysa is located southeast of Al-Bilaliya.  Footage from the December 16th video dump shows the rebels walking on the outskirts of Qaysa. A report from Slab News on November 28th claimed that the clashes in Qaysa had divided the town ‘two halves’. It appears that the rebels presumably never fully held the town of Qaysa, but only a northern portion.

On November 24th, a National Defense Force video showed NDF forces attempting to push north from Harran al Awamid against the rebel positions in Qaysa.

Figure 4: NDF video from the town of Harran al Awamid 

Harran al Awamid is located a few kilometers south of Qaysa. The report stated: “We are currently going in the direction of Bahariah. To support the SAA against the armed militants: takfiris. Military operations still continue. The military command assures the civilians are evacuated while they are sterilizing the area of terror. This group is on its way to Bahariah. We do of course have forces inside. We will reinforce them so we can repel the attack.”

On December 10th, SANA claimed to have regained control of Qaysa and to have ‘restored security and stability to it’, though there has been no visual evidence to support these claims. Considering the only primary evidence provided by the rebels was from the outskirts of the town, and that government claims to have retaken the town come from SANA, it can be concluded that the government has probably recaptured Qaysa.

Deir Salman, al-Qasimiyah, Abbadeh and Al-Bahariyah

On November 24th, Etilaf.org released a statement, entitled “FSA and Islamic Front Advance on Regime Forces in Eastern Ghouta,” which stated: “The Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Front captured the towns of Al-Bahariyah, Qasimiyah, Abbadeh and Deir Salman in Eastern Ghouta after fierce clashes with Assad Forces with reports of regime losses.” The statement further stated: “clashes are still going on in the town of Otaibah.”

Figure 5: Rebel Gains, December 5th
Deir Salman, دير سلمان

The rebels reportedly captured Deir Salman on November 22nd. Footage released in the December 16th footage dump showed the rebels celebrating at the center of Deir Salman as well as another clip showing a rebel tank and infantry destroying a government building. A further video shows rebels storming a government building as it burns.

Figure 6: Rebels Storm Government Building as it Burns

However on December 19th rebel pages reported a heavy government bombardment rocket and artillery bombardment. On December 20th government pages and Arab news outlets claimed that the town had been recaptured. Starting with Al Hadath News, then Slab News and Al Nour.  An Al Manar reporter, Sonar Hatem, also made the same claim on Twitter. Visual evidence has not yet been provided of these claims, but they were consistently carried in news outlets and on pro-government social media pages.

Until more evidence emerges, the situation in Deir Salman should be considered to be in flux, but it is very possible that the government has regained the town.

Al-Qasimiyah, قرية الجربا

Located northeast of Deir Salman is Al-Qasimiyah. Al-Qasimiyah was reported captured on November 24th.  On December 16th, footage was released showing the rebels entering the town, a graphic video of dead government soldiers in Qasimiyah, the rebels storming a compound, and one rebel celebrating while claiming that they held the town. The local media page, Coordinating Qasimiyah, continued to report the rebels held the town as of December 17th, and there is currently no counter-claim from the government to have retaken the city. It is likely that the rebels still hold the town as of December 21st.

Jarba, قرية الجربا

Jarba, located northeast of Al-Qasimiyah, was another town reported captured on November 24th.
On December 3rd, in an exception to the media blackout, the rebels released a short video showing their presence in Jarba outside a damaged mosque. On December 16th, this was confirmed with the release of footage of the rebels celebrating in Jarba. The local Facebook page is inactive, but there have been no government counter-claims of retaking the town. It is therefore likely, once again, that the rebels still hold the town as of December 21st.

Al-Bahariyah, البحارية

Located slightly north of Jarba is Al-Bahariyah. The rebels initially reported on November 22nd to have captured the town, which can now be tentatively confirmed with footage available. Other footage released mid-December shows the rebels fighting in the town with tanks and another clips shows captured government positions. There are no government counter-claims to have recaptured the city. So it is likely that the rebels still control the town as of December 21st.

Abbadeh, العبادة

Abbadeh is located northeast of Qaysa, slightly southeast of Jarba and directly northwest of Otaibah. On December 16th, old footage was released of rebels celebrating and walking through Abbadeh corroborating their November 24th claim. Another graphic video seems to show dead government soldiers, while yet another shows an Islamist flag flying over Abbadeh.

On December 7th, the government claimed to have ‘confront(ed) terrorists’ in Abbadeh, but there have been no claims of the town being fully recaptured from the government.  Yet again it can be concluded that the rebels are still in control of the town of Abbadeh.

Otaibah, قرية العتيبة

The furthest eastern extent of the Otaibah offensive seems to have been when the rebels briefly entered the western outskirts of the town of Otaibah. Otaibah is located here.

On December 2nd, rebels released a video showing a group of rebels at a key junction 1KM from the city center. Footage from the December 16th footage dump also shows the rebels fighting on the outskirts of Otaibah.

Figure 7: Rebels at the Junction northeast of Otaibah

Soon after, SANA news agency reported that the army had “restored security and stability to al-Eteibeh area and its surrounding in eastern Ghouta in Damascus countryside after eliminating an armed terrorist group that infiltrated the area few days ago.” In conjunction with this claim, the NDF released a video showing them inside Otaibah. Evidently the government has regained control of Otaibah.

The Curious Case of Mayda’a, ميدعا

Sitting north of Al-Bahariya and south of a government base, Brigade 39, is the town of Mayda’a. On October 19th, Fars News reported, “The source underlined that only Meyda’a region has remained to be cleaned up of militants, adding that the only supply route to the rebels in Eastern Ghouta now passes through this region.” The claim that the rebels had a supply route through Mayda’a is unverifiable elsewhere, but it can be evidenced that the rebels held Mayda’a before the Otaibah. On September 15th the Sham News Network reported the government shelled the town. On September 28th the local LCC reported that the government launched an air strike on the town. On October 15th Sham News Network reported government shelling of the town. It is unlikely that the government was shelling its own positions, so it appears that the rebels had been in control of Mayda’a since early September, subsequently confirmed by a Damascus source. Taken in conjunction with the October 19th report, it would seem that the rebels held Mayda’a when they launched the Otaibah offensive. As there have been no reports of the government recapturing Mayda’a as of December 19th, it would appear that the rebels still hold Mayda’a.

Figure 8: Map of East Ghouta as of December 21st

During Phase I, as of early December, the rebels had captured Al Bilaliya, Deir Salman, Qasimiyah, Abbadeh and Al-Bahariyah in full and parts of Otaibah and Qaysa. Since then, it is likely that the government has recaptured the Otaibah outskirts it lost, as well as Deir Salman and the parts of Qaysa that the rebels briefly took.

It can be tentatively concluded that currently the southern line of this Otaibah front runs along the southern tips of Al Bhilaliyah to Qasimiyah and then Abbadeh. The western front sits at the west of Abbadeh and runs vertically upwards along the western portions of Jarba, Al Bahariyah and Mayda’a. Sitting above Mayda’a, the government base, Brigade 39, severs the Otaibah front from the Adra Front.

The Adra Offensive

What is the situation in Adra?

On December 11th, the rebels launched an offensive on Adra. A week after the December 5th rebel claim from Otaibah, rebel activists claimed the Adra offensive represents the latter part of the Phase I offensive in East Ghouta. The Adra offensive appears to have been launched from the direction of Duma, the northeastern-most city in the rebel Ghouta pocket. On December 13th, pro-government activist Syrian Perspective created a map showing the rebels having made gains up to Baghdad Bridge to the northwest, Aard al Jullah to the north and As Safariyah town to the southeast of Adra.

On December 12th Lorientle Journal reported that the Syrian government had launched a counter-offensive. The key for the government was reestablishing control of the main road leading out of Damascus. There was, and continues to be, heavy fighting in the area. The Adra offensive seems to be a much bigger concern to the government than the Otaibah offensive.

On December 15th, the Syrian Army retook Baghdad Bridge. This has also been confirmed by a source in Damascus. On the same day Fars News reported government successes in neighborhoods to the north of Adra. On December 19th, the government further reported retaking forty blocks of Adra back from the rebels. On December 21st, RT Arabic reported that the Syrian Army had severed rebel supply routes to Adra. This matches the map by Syrian Perspective from December 21st, which showed the government had severed the Adra pocket from Duma. However rebels are reporting significant success in Adra, and two Jabhat al Nusra suicide bombers struck on December 21st, so the precise situation in Adra remains less clear than in Otaibah.

While the situation is clearly in flux, the government does seem to be making inroads to rebel gains; however, so far, the rebels continue to hold the center of Adra.

The Otaibah front struck southeast from Al-Bilaliyah to the outskirts of Otaibah with the initial offensive taking seven towns. The offensive has opened up a broader front in southeastern Ghouta for the rebels to potentially access from the outside with supplies (precariously). The government has counter-attacked taking the outskirts of Otaibah and possibly the towns of both Deir Salman and Qaysa.
Was Phase I a decisive victory for the rebels?

It is a hard question to answer as it remains unclear exactly what is going on; opinions differ depending on whom you ask. Clearly the rebels captured a considerable area including at least seven towns, inflicting losses some degree of government losses and securing a substantial amount of government armor.

But did the rebels break a clear corridor through the siege?


Certainly their southeastern front is now broader and more accessible than it was before Phase I, but the government’s recapture of the towns of Qaysa, Deir Salman and parts of Otaibah, combined with their string of air defense and army bases to the east of East Ghouta mean that rebels still have very little free movement. Evidently the rebels’ failure to secure Otaibah in full and the government success in retaking the parts lost dampens the rebels’ elation after Phase I. However it is clear that overall the rebels gained more than they lost in this offensive and certainly improved their situation if compared to the situation prior to Phase I.  The rebels have clearly improved their situation in East Ghouta significantly ahead of the Geneva II Peace Conference, not that any of the groups participating in these offensives have committed to attend.

As for the Adra offensive, it is too early to predict the results. The government’s swift counter-offensive has enjoyed some significant success. If the RT reports are true and the rebel supply lines from Duma have been severed, this would not bode well for the rebels left in a small pocket in Adra. It should be noted that the Adra counter-offensive seems to have received a much more concentrated counter-effort from the government than Otaibah. That said, the rebels still hold most of Adra and show no signs of retreating. Both sides claim heavy losses.

On December 21st very unconfirmed reports began to circulate from jihadist accounts that the rebels had begun Phase II in Damascus, titled “Enter the Door.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Syria's Barrel Bomb Technology Relative To Aleppo Syria Attacks - The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Richard M. Lloyd, Warhead Technology Consultant at Tesla Laboratory Inc. takes a look at the DIY barrel bombs used in Syria.

The Syrian government over the last year has supplemented it's traditional conventional air campaign with cheap weapons that have been referred to as Barrel Bombs (BB). These Do It Yourself (DIY) weapons are derived from low cost cylinders that are filled with explosive, fuel and irregular shaped steel fragments. These DIY bombs are manually deployed by soldiers from Russian HIP helicopters. The idea is these helicopters can roam around Syrian neighbourhoods and drop these weapons with more accuracy than firing aircraft rockets.  The purpose of this paper is provide some fundamental frame work of how these bombs work, while exploring the myths and false information that has been associated with these weapons.

Initial Barrel Bomb Technology
The main objective of the Syrian barrel bomb program is to provide cheap and lethal damage on urban areas in Syria. When these bombs were initially developed they were deployed from HIP helicopters from low altitudes. These low altitude deployments would ensure the barrel bombs could maintain pin point accuracy and damage specific targets that the Syrian government wanted to kill. However, over time the Syrian rebels acquired Man Portable Air Defense System (MANPADS) that deterred these low launched bombings and drove the Syrian government to drop these bombs from altitudes near 7000ft. A description of a Syrian helicopter that has been shot down from a rebel who fired a MANPADS missile is shown in figure 1.

Figure 1 Syrian Helicopter Shot Down With Rebel Fired MANPADS
These rebel MANPADS attacks have forced the Syrian barrel bomb helicopters to release their bombs from high altitudes.  This increased altitude reduces the accuracy of these bombs and now their impact points are random.  Currently, barrel bomb are not attacking point targets, but rather they are attacking large urban areas killing humans and damaging infrastructure such as building.

Over the last year there have been many false claims made by Syrian civilians as well as the press that barrel bombs have been deployed, when actually they were Russian conventional bombs. These false claims have given barrel bombs false praise by claiming their damage potential is greater than what it really is.  Figure 2 shows photos of a HIP-8 helicopter dropping a barrel bomb relative to a Russian Hind Helicopter dropping a conventional Russian bomb. 

Figure 2 Comparison Of HIP Mi-8 Barrel Bomb And Hind Conventional Bomb
As stated, there have been many false claims in Syria that damage to Syrian cities has been caused by barrel bombs when the damage was actually caused by Russian conventional bombs that have significantly higher reliability than these DIY barrel bombs.

Barrel bombs designs that are observed though social media demonstrate that the Syrian government designed these barrel bombs with a fuse wick that requires a heat source (matches, cigarettes, cigars) to ignite.  The Syrian government must have made the simple calculation that if the helicopter is at a known altitude (H) and the fuse wick burns at a known rate (\(\begin{equation} \dot{b} \end{equation}\)) then the time that it takes for the bomb to detonate is \(\begin{equation} t=H/\dot{b} \end{equation}\). However, this simple equation that computes the time before detonation is false.  Whoever designed these barrel bombs does not understand that there is a 10% burn rate error in the fuse wick.  They also don't understand that if the helicopter is not at the designed altitude it will affect the time of fall.  In conjunction with these errors, they did not take into account the barrel size, mass, barrel bomb L/D ratio, tumble rate, drag effects, wind speed as well as the time it takes the soldier to deploy the bombs once it has been lit inside the helicopter. All of these effects must be accounted for if a fuse wick is going to be used.  Lets perform an example calculation that only considers the 10% error source of the fuse wick burn rate and assume all of the other errors are zero or negligible. The Syrian government would first be required to compute the terminal velocity of the barrel bomb by using the equation \(\begin{equation} V=\sqrt{2W/\rho AC_{d}} \end{equation}\).  The terminal velocity accounts for the weight of the barrel bomb as well as the air density, average cross sectional area and drag of the barrel falling to the ground.  A 500lb barrel bomb has a terminal velocity near 250f/s. Based on this calculation the time it takes the barrel to impact the ground is just 7000ft/250ft/s=28 seconds.  So, the selected fuse wick that has a known burn rate is cut to a length which would burn for 28 seconds and detonate just when it impacts the ground. However, since there is a 10% burn rate error, there exists a probability that it could detonate early.  If the burn rate is 10% too fast then the entire fuse wick would have completed its burn at 25.2 seconds.  This means the warhead would detonate 700ft before hitting the ground.  Examples of these early bursts have been demonstrated through many videos as shown in figure 3.

Figure 3 Barrel Bombs Detonate Early From Negative Errors
These early bursts  have been widely seen in Syria, which are caused by an accumulation of the errors that potentially can exist.  It is unknown how accurate the helicopter pilot attempts to keep the helicopter at the designed altitude.  It is also unclear if the Syrian barrel bomb builders understand drag effects and fuse wick errors and probability timing . Another example of another error is a Syrian Solider lighting and pushing barrel bombs out of the helicopter. In this instance, time must be taken into account and there is obviously no control of how the bomb is thrown out where time must be accounted for.  A photo of a Syrian soldier pushing a barrel bomb out of a helicopter is shown in figure 4.
Figure 4 Description of Barrel Bombs on Syrian Helicopter Prior to Deployment
These early barrel bomb weights are around 100-300lbs and are ignited using fuse wicks. The soldier lights the fuse wick using a cigar because the wind would blow out a match or lighter.  A close up of the fuse wicks is also shown where they should all have the same length.  After the fuse wick is lit, the soldier quickly pushes the bomb from the helicopter. It is unclear how the Syrian designers of these bombs expected to time the fall exactly because there is clear evidence that many of these barrel bombs detonated early which is referred to as a negative time delay.

The above analysis has only considered what could happen if the total time is less than the required time to detonate the barrel bombs given a ground impact.  However, what would happen if the barrel bomb detonated late. Based on our example problem, the fuse wick would burn for a longer time than 28 seconds.  If this occurs, then the barrel bomb would actually hit the ground or a building while the fuse wick is still burning.  If this occurred, then based on video and photo evidence the barrel bomb would shatter upon ground impact or detonate if the fuse wick and bomb were not destroyed. There is clear evidence that barrel bombs can detonate given a positive delay time as shown in figure 5. This figure shows two potential out comes when the time delay is positive where the barrel bomb will either detonate or turn out to be a dud.

Figure 5 Comparison Of BB Detonating or Duding Based On Positive Time Delay
The next step is to try to understand why there is and explosion in one case and not in another. One explanation,assuming all is equal, is the effect of  the shock-wave through out the barrel bomb's front endplate which holds the fuse wick. The stress of a steel case impacting concrete, grass or sand has been investigated.  By using the shock Hugoniot equation \(\begin{equation}
P=\rho c\mu+\rho s\mu
\end{equation}\) , the interface pressure between the ground surface and steel barrel bomb is calculated.  The density of the material is \(\begin{equation}
\end{equation}\)while the bulk sound speed of the material is \(\begin{equation}
\end{equation}\) where \(\begin{equation}
\end{equation}\)is the particle velocity and s is the slope between shock velocity and material stress. These calculations show that the impact stress of a barrel bomb impacting concrete or rock is 3.5-5 times greater than if the barrel bomb impacted sand or dry soil.  This increase in stress will cause the endplate that holds the fuse wick in place to fracture from the barrel bomb which disables the bomb.

Another important parameter that must be considered that would determine if positive time delayed barrel bombs can detonate is the impact point on the bomb. If a barrel bomb impacts directly on the fuse endplate, then there is an increased probability that the bomb could fail.  Based on video analysis and ground inspection, these barrel bombs do not contain any fins to help control the fall of the bomb by providing stabilization.  These bombs randomly tumble and the probability that these bombs could impact on the fuse/endplate is just 1/6 or 16.6%. If we assume a uniform random distribution of barrel bombs that contain negative and positive time delays, then just based on this fact the probability of a positive bomb impact is 50%.  As of now, there is a 50% chance the bomb will not work and a 50% chance that the bomb will work.  Now lets account for the ground and the impact position of the barrel to the ground.  If the barrel bomb impacts concrete then the bomb will break apart and not work as intended. However, if the bomb impacts softer ground, it is probable, as observed, that these bombs will not break apart and wil function correctly. Our analysis assumes a 50% probability that the bomb will impact concrete/rock and a 50% probability that the bomb will impact sand or grass with light rubble.  This means the probability that the bomb will function is just the probability that the time delay is positive or negative and the probability that the ground is hard or soft.  This calculation is \(\begin{equation}
\end{equation}\)which means there is a 25% chance these fuse wick barrel bombs will work. So, it requires the Syrian government to deploy four barrel bombs to get one bomb to detonate the way it's intended.  A description of two different barrel bombs is shown in figure 6.  The barrel bomb on the left is one that impacted on a soft surface,where the stress was not high enough to fracture off the fuse wick endplate, while the barrel bomb on the right is shown hitting concrete and fracturing off the fuse wick endplate.

 Figure 6 Comparison between barrel bombs impacts on soft and hard surfaces
Barrel Bomb Designs
The remains of these barrel bomb duds have been investigated to understand how the Syrian government has assembled them, and to determine how lethal these bombs can be.

It is evident from visual observations that there has been little to no quality control on these designs because of the many shapes and sizes that have been observed.  There appears to be clear design trends that clearly show that Syrian personnel have no weapon design and effects training.  Most Syrian barrel bombs contain many large steel components, such as cut rebar or large machine metal pieces such as large industrial bearings. These large metal chunks are inserted inside and mixed with the TNT explosive. The problem with this approach is when the explosive detonates, it's using a lot of its energy to accelerate these large chucks of metal which reduces its blast effects as clearly seen in figure 7. These added steel materials reduce the blast effects by making the explosive use its energy to accelerate it.
Figure 7 Large Metallic Metal Components Added In Barrel Bomb Explosive Mixture
However, if these large metallic pieces were to impact a human then they would cause catastrophic incapacitation. There are mathematical equations that predict the optimum fragment size that is required to kill a person by taking into account probability theory and applying weapon design equations. The probability of incapacitating a person is computed with this equation\(\begin{equation} P=1-e^-a({mv^{3/2-b)^{n}}} \end{equation}\)

Based on this equation, the optimum fragment mass can be computed to increase barrel bomb performance.  The barrel bomb case would break apart into thousands of small fragments from the natural fragmentation of the explosive shock wave interaction with the smooth case.

The fragment mass is m and the impact velocity is v where test derived constants are a, b and n. The velocity of the added metallic fragment is computed by using the Gurney equation which is\(\begin{equation} V=\sqrt{2E}\sqrt{C/M/(1+D/2L)(1+C/2M)} \end{equation}\)
The \(\begin{equation} \sqrt{2E} \end{equation}\)is the explosive Gurney constant which is around 2.4km/s for TNT. The explosive mass is C while the metallic mass plus the barrel bomb case is M. The parameters D and L are barrel bomb diameter and length respectively. The barrel bomb average case fragment can be computed by \(\begin{equation} \mu^{1/2}= Bt^{5/6}d_{i}^{1/3}(1+t/d_i) \end{equation}\) where B is a constant, t is the barrel bomb thickness and \(\begin{equation} d_i \end{equation}\) is the explosive diameter. The estimated number of fragments from the barrel alone is \(\begin{equation} N(m)=M/2\mu \end{equation}\)where the number of fragments in a particular weight class is calculated by \(\begin{equation} N(m)=M/2\mu e^{-(m/\mu)^{1/2}} \end{equation}\)

These equations have been exercised pertaining to the Syrian barrel bombs.  The analysis clearly shows that these weapons are under-designed and their lethality in urban areas can significantly increase by changing their approach and understanding of weapon effects.  Even though these embedded large chunks of metal are highly lethal against humans, the probability of being hit by one is extremely low. Given a 40ft stand-off distance of a human from a barrel bomb explosion, there would be a 96% probability of death given a hit from one of these fragments,  However, the probability of being hit from these chunks of metal is only 3%, which gives a total probability of incapacitation of 2.8%. An example calculation is shown in figure 8.

 Figure 8 Barrel Bomb Probability of Incapacitation and Probability Equations
The blast effects have been investigated, and where the pressure-impulse to incapacitate a human has been calculated.  The blast damage is directly related to the amount of explosive as well as the metal casing surrounding it. The lethal blast radius has been calculated, but it is not reported in this version of the report.

Changing Barrel Bomb Technology
There are several significant changes that have been observed in Syrian barrel bomb technology.  It is evident from these changes that the military determined they were not getting explosive detonations on the ground and their bombs were not working.  The Syrian government has switched from using fuse wick fuses to impact fuses. As stated earlier, these fuse wicks have minimal chance of working because of their time delay errors.  However, the addition of impact fuses accounts for all of the errors that are associated with fuse wicks. These new impact fuses are clearly DIY and in conjunction with these new fuse concepts, the sizes of the barrel bombs have significantly increased.  Today's Syrian barrel bomb weights can exceed over 2000lbs of TNT, making them highly lethal given a high order explosive detonation in urban areas. A description of a recovered barrel bomb with these new design features is shown in figure 9.

Figure 9 Newer barrel bombs designed with DIY impact fuzes
These impact fuses were created using detonation cord to ignite the bulk TNT explosive charge. It is unclear what the exact reliability of these fuses are and how well they actually work. However, it is expected that the Syrian builders have performed some testing of this device to have enough confidence that it will work given that the barrel impacts the ground on the fuse. In order for these new bombs to work they must impact on the fuse which means they must impact on the front of the barrel.  The only way to accomplish this is to add fins to stabilize the bomb so it won't tumble as it falls to the ground.

This recovered barrel bomb did not operate and detonate correctly because the fins appear to be too small.  The explosive weight of this bomb is near 2000lbs with small fins attached to the middle of the bomb. Figure 10 is a picture of the small fins that were welded to the center of the bomb.  A picture of a typical Russian bomb is shown, which clearly shows these bombs are designed with fins in the back of the bomb and not in the middle.  It has been concluded with high confidence that this massive bomb still tumbles and the probability of falling on the impact fuse is random.  It appears the fins are designed too small and the barrel bomb is randomly tumbling to the ground.  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. However, if the DIY fuse has a reliability near 75%, then the probability of success is 12%.

Figure 10 Syrian barrel bomb with small fins attached to the middle
It appears the Syrian builders have discovered this problem with their fins and their inability to generate a stable and aligned bomb.  There is clear evidence that the Syrians have moved these fins from the middle of the bomb to the aft end, which is the design norm of all the gravity bombs in the world. Figure 11 shows a large barrel bomb just after it has been deployed.

Figure 11 Large Barrel Bomb Deployment  Showing Initial tumbling Of Weapon
These new design features have increased the probability that the barrel bomb will fall aligned with stable flight and impact the fuse. We have already estimated that the fuse has a 75% chance of working given an impact. Based on these fins relative to known bombs around the world, it appears that the stability of the bomb will increase, but it is still unclear whether the fins are large enough and far enough to the back of the bomb to provide good stability.  A conservative estimate of the fin performance based on Russian and US fins relative to the Syrian barrel bombs is 50%. This estimate is based on analyzing Russian bombs of similar weight, and measuring their fin distance and diameter relative to the recovered barrel bombs. Given these two performance probabilities, the probability that these new Syrian barrel bombs will work correctly is 37.5%.

Barrel Bomb Design Variations
There have been several recovered barrel bombs that are designed differently compared to most traditional barrel bombs. Some of these barrel bombs contain smaller warheads that are embedded within the explosive to ignite the much larger barrel bomb explosive.  This design technique uses the small warhead as a booster, which is really not required.  An example of this is shown in figure 12.

Figure 12 Syrian barrel bomb using small warhead as a booster
The explosive has appeared to be soaked in oil which would give the same features as ANFO. ANFO is an explosive mixture which contains some small percentage of oil.  This oil actually reduces the explosive detonation velocity which reduces the blast and fragment acceleration power of the explosive.  This bomb has an impact fuse, but the most disturbing observation is it has no fins. Without fins, this bombs reliability is very low and the odds of it working are small.  In fact, all objects that fly through the air eventually turn and fly with the side with its greatest presented area.  If this rule of thumb is applied, this bomb will never rotate and align its front surface to the ground.  The highest probability of the side with the fuse impacting is just 1/6 or 16.6% which assumes there is an equal chance of any side impacting. Now, if the reliability of the fuse is 75%, then the probability that the barrel bomb will function is 12.4%.                

The Syrian government over the last year has significantly increased it's barrel bomb sizes from hundreds of pounds of explosive to 2000 pounds of explosive. However, there is strong evidence that these weights are larger than this.  A video exists that shows the Syrian military throwing barrel bombs from a helicopter with a large fuel auxiliary tank. This video shows to the right a large yellow tank, which is the helicopter's internal fuel auxiliary tank. This tank can contain over 960 litres of fuel ,or, if it was converted to a high-explosive barrel bomb, it would contain around 3000-3500lbs of explosive as shown in figure 13.

Figure 13 Syrian Military Using Helicopter Fuel Auxiliary Fuel Tank As Barrel Bomb
With the need for larger barrel bombs and the Syrian military's need for larger explosions, there is reason to believe that the military could be using these auxiliary fuel tanks as Fuel Air Explosives (FAE).  There is no clear evidence of the military converting these fuel tanks to FAE'S but there appears to be very large unexplainable explosions in Syria that that are clearly made from unknown FAE weapons. If the military made these tanks into FA'S and they were able to master the weaponization of deploying fuel and igniting it, these tanks would generate explosions greater than 15 tonne TNT equivalent weights. One of these unexplainable explosions that has not been attributed to ground fuel explosions, fuel or high explosive depots or anything but a dropped bomb is shown in figure 14.  This unexplainable explosion distinctly shows that a FAE or fuel weapon was used in Syria that generated a fireball cloud with a diameter near 2000ft.  The TNT equivalent yield is estimated from the height of the dust cloud where many yield equations have been derived for nuclear and large explosive events in the 1960's. This explosion did not persist like known explosions that were started from fuel depots or fuel lines from conventional bombings. This explosion occurred and persisted for about 120 seconds and then disconnected from the ground.  Also, there have been several barrel bombs that have been observed from helicopters that appear to have platforms that are attached to wheel tracks.  These bombs would weigh over 3000lbs and would require a sled system to move it on and off the helicopter.

Figure 14 Potential Syrian derived weapon, which supports unexplainable explosions
This explosion would generate significant damage to all buildings within a 600ft diameter. The analysis assumed the fuel is ethylene oxide which has an energy content of 28000J/g while TNT explosive is around 4180J/g.  This large increase in energy is another reason why the Syrian military may be investigating weaponizing auxiliary fuel tanks into FAE weapons.  It is known that Syria possesses Russian ODAB 500 FAE weapons that only have a TNT equivalent yield of one tonne.

Aleppo barrel Bombs Attacks
It was reported that Syrian government aircraft dumped barrels packaged with explosives on at least four opposition-held neighbourhoods of Aleppo on December 18, 2013. This would be the fourth day of increased air strikes on this contested northern city. It appears this air campaign killed more than 100 people in the first three days alone.  A map of the potential barrel bombings is shown in figure 15.  The damage radius of these bombs looks very large from observing videos of the explosions.  In fact, it is still unclear if all 11 of these explosions were solely from barrel bombs.  The Syrian people have a history of calling all bombs dropped from helicopters barrel bombs, which is false. There has been many reports that all of these attacks are barrel bombs but given the probability of success, this seems questionable and further analysis is required. However, lets assume all 11 explosions were from barrel bombs and lets also assume that all 11 barrel bombs possessed fuse wicks.  Since the probability of a fuse wick barrel bomb working is 25%, it would require around 88 barrel bomb drops to achieve 11 successful explosions based on the probability equation of \(\begin{equation} P=1-(1-P_{k/h})^n \end{equation}\)

The single shot probability of success is 25% and given a 90% probability requirement it would take 88 fuse wick barrel bombs which appears to be an unrealistic scenario where Russian bombs would be mixed in. We know that the Syrians have developed or increased their capability by adding impact fuses to account for the timing errors of the fuse wicks. Let's assume that the barrel bombs contain impact fuses but do not contain fins that are able to stabilize the bombs for a successful impact on the fuse. The single-shot probability of these barrel bombs is 12%. This means that the Syrian military would have to drop nearly 187 barrel bombs to obtain 11 explosions. This large number of barrel bombs also does not appear realistic, as the Syrian military uses no or very small fins in the middle of the bomb.    

Figure 15 Aleppo Bomb Impact Points From December 2013 Attacks  
The next calculation will consider the most advanced barrel bombs it is believed the Syrian military has. The single-shot bomb probability of success is 37.5%, which means it would require five bombs to achieve one successful explosion.  The total number of bombs that the Syrian military would have to drop to obtain 11 explosions is 55.  It is unknown how many helicopters were used in these bombings, but if the capacity of a HIP helicopter is considered, then each helicopter could only hold around 3-4 bombs of 1000lb size.  A single video was found of a very large barrel bomb that appeared on the internet December 21, 2013.  It is believed this barrel bomb could have been used in the Aleppo attacks. Figure 16 shows this barrel bomb and it specifically shows that this bomb has an explosive yield of 1500-2000lbs.

Figure 16 Large barrel bombs filmed and posted online on Dec 21, 2013
However, if the military has mastered the fuel air explosive dispersal technique, then this bomb would have a yield of 6 tonne TNT equivalent weight.  The damage on the ground strongly supports that very large bombs were used to generate the amount of damage that is seen in many of the videos.  Another key observation of the barrel bomb is the fins are on the back of the bomb, and not in the middle. It appears that this bomb concept has a good chance to be aligned and stable to allow for a lethal fuse impact. A closer look at the barrel bomb from the December 21 attack is shown in figure 17.

Figure 17 Close up of the barrel bomb from video
It is unknown how many bombs in Aleppo were DIY barrel bombs and how many were Russian conventional bombs. If we estimate that there were three helicopters used in this campaign and each helicopter contained three 2000lb barrel bombs, then based on each helicopter performing two separate missions, an estimate can be made as to whether it's feasible that all the explosions in Aleppo were from barrel bombs.  The calculations show that each day, there were 18 barrel bombs dropped with only 3.6 explosions per day. After three days of bombing, the total number of barrel bombs dropped is 54 which correlates with the 55 barrel bombs required that must be deployed to achieve 11 explosions. It appears possible that all the attacks in Aleppo could have been DIY barrel bombs because these attacks occurred over 3-4 days, as it is clearly possible that 55 barrel bombs could have been dropped with their new and enhanced designs over this period of time. The video analysis of the overall damage strongly supports that very large barrel bombs were used.