Syrian Sarin Update: Khan Shaykhun à son goût

Here’s the telegraphic version, from PJ Media’s Bridget Johnson. It should answer some of your questions after Friday’s cruise-missile attack.

A “background briefing” is one in which the reporters can use the information but not attribute it by name to the individuals providing it. (There’s often a generic “source” specified, like this report’s “NSC Officials.” For those interested in the mechanics, there are several variations of source/reporter interaction, explained from the j-school point of view here).  In the instant case, Johnson reports..

An American View

NEWS: National Security Council officials just held a background briefing with reporters on the declassified intel assessment of last week’s chemical attack on Khan Shaykhun, Syria. Full story coming soon, but a few takeaways:

  • Sarin confirmed as the nerve agent used via testing on victims as well as symptoms. Secondary responders also suffered exposure symptoms.
  • Su-22s from Shayrat airfield dropped the sarin on Khan Shaykhun; conventional weapons were dropped about six hours later on hospital treating sarin victims – “no comment” from officials on if Russia did latter.
  • No ISIS or other terrorists in area have sarin (just mustard gas) – attack was “not a terrorist holding of sarin or a terrorist use of sarin”
  • WH official on if Russia, present at airfield, knew of sarin attack: “We don’t have information on that per se… still looking into that.” Adding: “We do think that it is a question worth asking” Russians how they were with Syrian forces at airfield “and did not have knowledge” of the attack in planning/prep stages.
  • “Leakage inconsistent” with Russians saying sarin came from opposition stocks on ground – “we don’t see a building with that chemical residue”
  • On Syria hoax conspiracy theories: Body of evidence “too massive” for anyone to fabricate. Official added that videos released of attack did correspond with that date, time, location.

A Russian View

So that’s the American spin. Opposed to that, we have the Russian propaganda outlet Anna News getting the Syrian spin on things, on the target airfield. Much of what reporter Sergei Bayduk has to say is bullshit, but the images are interesting. He identifies the same two a/c hulks we have seen as a MiG-23 (presumably the “monkey model” the Soviets furnished to allies) and an Su-22. Swing-wing jets of the 60s and 70s.

Bayduk makes the valid point that the attack did not close the airfield for long. The attack kicked off at oh-dark-thirty, lasted about a half an hour, and after the all clear they quickly repaired the airfield and were flying by daybreak. (Here, the rugged design of Soviet / Russian landing gear pays big dividends, as the planes are designed to land on completely unimproved surfaces, so there’s no problem landing and taking off on a runway that’s only had hasty repairs).

You have to wonder what the old Soviet authorities were thinking (back in the Brezhnev days) to transfer biological and chemical weapons to guys like Khadafy, Saddam Hussein and Assad père. They do realize that if these guys used these weapons on their enemy, Israel, the Israelis would most probably respond with their only WMD: nukes. But then again, in Brezhnev’s day they built the reactor at Chernobyl (he was dead and gone when it went FOOM).

We spent some time at a base in Uzbekistan that was, we discovered, contaminated with just about everything imaginable, including chemical weapons, biological toxins and spores, and ionizing radiation from two HASes in which aircraft had been blown up about like the ones you see here. There was a story the Uzbek AF officers told, but we didn’t know whether to credit it or not. There were also Soviet era crash sites all over the field… the first years of jet fighters look like they were just as unsafe in the Soviet Air Force as in its American counterpart.

Of course, Uzbekistan is a different matter, perhaps, as it was one of 15 Republics of the USSR, sovereign Soviet territory, when the A-VMF stockpiled WMDs there.

While the USSR sponsored some real bastards, the US in turn sponsored plenty of bastards of our own. Some of the places that were once dictatorships aren’t, now.

Returning to Syria, it sounds as if President Trump does not want to engage against Assad or make regime change his objective — the purpose of the strike was to send a message: chemical weapons are not OK.

We have our qualms about using the military for message-sending.

An Australian View

Every major nation has its own defense intellectuals, if not its own think tanks, and they often come at problems from new directions. For example, the Lowy Institute for International Policy (Sydney, Australia) has an interesting and deep analysis of the Khan Shaykhoun attack, which it calls out as very different from the attacks which have gone before. Here’s a taste:

Although chemical attacks against the Syrian population have continued over the past four years the Khan Sheikhoun attack is significantly different. After the August 2013 sarin attacks, Syria was compelled to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, declare all its chemical weapons and disarm. Chlorine barrel bombs were used after that, but their manufacture seemed makeshift and they were clearly not part of Syria’s former military chemical arsenal. Chlorine barrel bombs are a violation of the CWC but their possession does not indicate that Syria’s 2013 declaration of its chemical weapons was incorrect. Chlorine, if used for industrial reasons, is excluded.

Over the past few years CWC member states have expressed concern that Syria’s chemical declaration is inaccurate and incomplete. Indeed over the past two years the OPCW has held continuing discussions with Syria to resolve discrepancies, so far without success. Although the nature of these discussions is confidential, statements made by various delegates to the OPCW suggest that although the majority of Syria’s chemical holdings were disclosed, details are missing on a broad range of issues, including on munitions and manufacture.

The Khan Sheikhoun attack now appears to be demonstrable proof that Syria’s CWC declaration, the basis for its chemical disarmament, is inaccurate. At the very least, Syria has retained undeclared stocks of a nerve agent, possibly sarin in binary form, and the munitions to deliver it. What other chemical weapons may be undeclared can only be speculated on, but given the recent event it is reasonable to assume that some exist.

We strongly recommend anyone interested Read The Whole Thing™.  We can’t disagree with author Rod Barton’s conclusions:

[I]t is difficult to envisage what measures, political or military, the US could realistically take to bring Syria to account. In all probability, the abhorrent Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack is likely to be lost in the wider Syrian crisis, with its almost 5 million external refugees, its growing internal humanitarian needs and its political complexity.

As depressing and alarming as it is, the world may therefore expect that Syria will continue to use its remaining chemical weapons against its populace, whenever it chooses and with relative impunity.

70 thoughts on “Syrian Sarin Update: Khan Shaykhun à son goût

  1. Daniel

    The link to Lowy Institute for International Policy is to their About page rather than the article you are writing about.

    1. James F.

      That would be “Syria’s chemical weapons: Khan Sheikhoun attack may not be the last, by Rod Barton, April 7, 2017.” (Link in nick.)

      Tell me, does anyone know why it’s supposed to be WRONG under international law for Assad to use poison gas to prevent an internal rebellion?

      He’s not actually aiming to wipe out innocent civilians, it’s collateral damage, same as with bombs, drones, and even mortar fire.

      If you want to avoid being droned, the rule is “Don’t stand next to a terrorist.”

      The same applies to a gas attack on rebels, except you should stand further away, uphill and upwind.

      1. Kirk

        You make an interesting argument. One that I think we’ll be hearing a lot from various moral relativists as we move further into the wonderful 21st Century we’re making for ourselves.

        The problem with “looking the other way” when these things happen is that it normalizes the behavior; which in turn, makes the behavior that much more common. After all, if Assad can get away with using chemical weapons on his own civilian population, and Pakistan/Saudi Arabia can make a major strike on the US using cut-outs, then why not go a bit further along, exploring the envelope? Not to mention, as you become more and more accustomed to things, the wider usages become less and less remarkable. Sort of the way that we saw WWII go from universal Allied moral outrage over the bombing of Rotterdam, to what we did to Dresden and Tokyo–Both of which got little or no comment from anyone, at the time.

        So, yeah… I think that we either put a stop to it now, or we wait a few years, and the intellectual successors to Aum Shinrikyo will be doing artisanal nerve agents as a matter of course. Given the rapid nature of technical progress in these areas, I rather think we’re going to be a bit better off if we all start setting a standard of non-tolerance for this sort of bullshit, and do it now. I still think that Bush should have glassed Riyadh and Abottabad, just to make a point that the use of terrorism will not be tolerated.

        I’m convinced that the major theme of historians looking back on our era, supposing that there are any left to do so, will be the completely oblivious approach to consequence that our politicians maintained throughout. It’s rather like the idiot Crusaders, who sacked and looted Constantinople, leaving the Byzantines vulnerable to the Turks a few generations later, who became the massive threat to Europe’s southern flank that they did. Likewise, the weakening of the international order and the customary Law of War that the various apologists for Islam have allowed to take effect has left us in a state where few feel any real restraint against the creation and use of WMD as a routine matter of international intercourse.

        The view back from a century or more into the future is not going to be kind to George Bush, of whatever vintage. Both of them will be seen as being primary contributors to the breaking down of international order, and held historically accountable for their feckless approach to enforcing and building it up. Along with allowing the conditions to be set such that a creature like Obama and his hangers-on could attain power, Bush 43 is going to come in for a lot of historical blame for the mess we’re in and creating as we speak–Which is sad, because I believe he was and is an essentially decent man, just with an unfortunate need to be liked by everyone. He should have done the hard things that were necessary, but he didn’t. Our surviving great-grandchildren will likely look at him with a very different set of lenses than his detractors and supporters use today.

        1. DSM

          I’d say the whole Axis of Evil speech will be the sound bite to that discussion in the future, even more so with whatever will come to pass with Iran. Immediately after 9/11 they had condemned the attacks and after OEF kicked off had even offered safe passage for aircrew in distress. It’s a public face of course but more than they had ever offered. Their populace at the time was in the exact same position as in 1979, lots of younger people who felt disenfranchised and looked at the older generation as stalwarts of a bygone era. They were wanting more of western society and tired of living under sanctions. Let’s be clear, we weren’t ever going to be tablemates at the international picnic and ice cream social but we’ve done more to refocus their internal need for change into aggression at their old adversary than anything else.

          1. John M.

            How much moral outrage and badfeelz Iran got over 9/11 is debatable. What’s not debatable is that Iran and the Taliban loathed each other. The Taliban had knocked over an Iranian consulate (in Mazar-i-Sharif, if memory serves) and generally pursued a domestic anti-Shia pogrom that was odious to the Iranians. Looking at the demographics of Afghanistan, the Taliban was about the most anti-Iranian regime possible there, and Iran rightly calculated that a new government would regress to the mean in terms of its Iran stance.

            And a few years later, they were delivering suitcases full of USD to *our* corrupt puppet there.

            -John M.

  2. S

    Still stinks, and an anon briefing of reporters doesn’t deodorise, quite the opposite. Why use unreliable chems when conventional weapons would be just fine, if you want to slay civilians? The US does it all the time, even when they aren’t trying. Also, why bomb at all, when it was not an attack on the US or its interests? R2P is getting a workout…can we therefore assume you’ll bomb a few mosques and asylum barracks over here when Merkel’s kids get sporty?

  3. Pingback: Aesop: BDA Info | Western Rifle Shooters Association

  4. Eric

    The US does it all the time? Prove it.

    We do not condone the use of killing any innocents, especially women and children, and, do not condone the use of chemical weapons at all, hence the message sent ala cruise missiles. Are you suggesting we turn away and stick our heads in the sand whenever chemical weapons are used?

    It is the Germans who have the historical track record of slaying anyone that does not agree with their credo, Merkel or no Merkel. I am betting the immigration issue there is going to be resolved by the Germans one way or another.

    1. Kirk

      Along with the point that it is quite rich to hear a German go on about the moral depravity of the US, when it was the Germans and a bunch of other oh-so-civilized fellow Europeans who sold the majority of the Middle Eastern dictators most of their chemical and biological production gear in the first place.

      One rather gets the impression that it isn’t necessarily the killing that they object to, but the direct nature of it. Apparently, if the killing is done at a remove, it is perfectly moral. Not to mention, highly profitable…

    2. Curtis

      Chemical weapons were used by Assad on innocents, especially women and children? Prove it.


      “We do not condone the use of killing any innocents, especially women and children.”

      Yeah. Oops! Sorry innocents, and women and children! Ya know how those pesky JDAM’s are. And, the nature of things, like globcopping.

      Murica! Globocop! USA!

      I have 7 links at my website concerning Syria, which is chalk full of hundreds of articles on Syria.

    3. Josey Wales

      ” I am betting the immigration issue there is going to be resolved by the Germans one way or another.”

      I certainly do hope so…….refining past methodology is probably a requirement for actually getting the job done.

      ““We do think that it is a question worth asking” Russians how they were with Syrian forces at airfield “and did not have knowledge” of the attack in planning/prep stages.”

      Of course they knew. They likely supplied the Sarin and may even have dropped it. When was the last time the Russians actually gave a hoot what the West thought. They lie about stuff like that all the time.

      There was an exchange between Bill O’Reilly and Lt. Col Ralph Peters USA (ret.) last night that I (and Peters) found amusing……..

      Peters: “We cannot be the world’s policeman, but we have to be the world’s referee, calling fouls and imposing penalties when necessary, because nobody else can do it.”
      O’Reilly: “Well, nobody else WILL do it, I mean China could do it, Russia could do it, they have enough might, military might, to deal with the war criminals like Assad, but they won’t.”
      Peters: (laughing) “They ARE the war criminals”…….

      I’m thinking Peters and a whole lot of other folks believe that Russia did it as do I. The US Government probably has the proof of that but “doesn’t think it’s helpful” (as DoS often phrases such things) to make that public at this time, better to use that proof as blackmail now if that can be useful (it won’t be, the Russians will cheat or outright renege on whatever concessions may be achieved by it’s use) or as a stick later after the above proves true, again. If NSA has proof, they would be wise not to share that with DoS below the SoS level anyway.

      1. Fuel Filter.

        Ralph Peters is a Russian-hating war-mongering whack-job.

        He fits right in with Juan McLame,  Miss Lindsay, Rubio and the rest of the neo-cons that lust for war. With anybody.

        Lou Dobbs had the good sense to never use him again as an “analyst”  after a particularly ugly exchange with him 3-4 months ago in which Peters had the unmitigated gall to call Dobbs a “Kremlin apologist”.

        Pay no attention to this old fool.

    4. S

      US forces and dead noncombatants…for pete’s sake, your inherent firepower-centric mindset guarantees them, along with plenty of own and allied troops killed. Look at history, look at this SF centric blog with a leitmotif of quiet professionals; unstated is the contrast of noisy amateurs.

      Moral equivalence. It’s BS, as is claiming because unrelated predecessors did something, the successor is disqualified from commenting about crimes past, present and future, even if he is merely trying to convince a tiny minority of apparently intelligent people not to jump on the bandwagon.

      Chemical and biological weapons are difficult to use as mass lethal weapons. We Krauts at least learned it in 1915, but kept using them because they were at least a useful annoyance in industrial siege warfare, and because you matched and surpassed us. Mind you, the guys sucking it hard on the ground didn’t get to vote on it, so maybe the dickheads that rushed in at the start, and the scoundrels that chose to unleash and persist, should be condemned for it? And every iteration of warmongers at any level, every generation they turn up? The Soviets had ICBM-delivered agents, and would have cleaned our clocks, but they have memories of what real war can be like when it visits home, instead of beating on significantly weaker opponents half a world away. Welcome to the new reality: no lines, no borders, no uniforms, no flags. All in, no gloves, and nobody is going to listen to outraged squeals of indignation, least of all from the useful idiots marching behind a flag on the same old scoundrel’s cause. That’s where the path leads, if loose cannon Trump wants to continue making his own rules while leading a Potemkin nation toward the pipe-dream of regaining Pax Americana. Or blasting a path for a pipeline from the Gulf to Europe, which seems to be curiously unmentioned. And Kirk: our criminal rulers sold that stuff with the approval of your criminal rulers, to scumbags your criminal TLA’s installed. Sure you want to follow that herring down the rabbit hole?

      The immigrant problem is designed to brew up into trouble; perpetual divide & conquer, with the bonus of having an excuse for extreme measures. It’s worked since Nimrod, why change a winning formula? Especially when the sheeple fall for it, welcome it, every time. Yes, the grumbling here is noticeable, the groundswell for a Trumpf to come in and deliver an Endlösung. And you chumps are cheering it on. Here’s a spot of homework: what is the Cardinal Sin defined at Nuremberg? Who did it just recently?

      1. St. Jude

        It seems to me that this doesn’t have to be nearly as complicated at you seem to think it is. We have a new president. The last president was a lot of bluster, but indecisive and vacillating. The new president is accused of a lot of bluster. Makes sense to test the new guy, in a small and not-insane-enough-to-get-the-country-invaded sort of way. See how he will respond. Syria might find the information useful. Russia would certainly find the response, or lack thereof, very interesting. Of course, I’m sure Russia would never influence a pawn to conduct recon by fire…

        In any case, 60 TLAMs, regardless of the BDA from the attack, is a pretty small price to pay to give Putin one giant middle finger.

        You make a good point about moral equivalence and the sins of the fathers not being passed on to the sons. I wholeheartedly agree. Still, I’m sure you will forgive me if I seem a little irritated by being accused (by association, since I still wear the flag of my country on my shoulder) of being a warmongering useful idiot by a German discussing the relative merits of using gas to kill one’s enemies.

  5. Paul Rain

    Interesting. “No ISIS or other terrorists in area have sarin (just mustard gas) – attack was “not a terrorist holding of sarin or a terrorist use of sarin””- presumably the CIA determined this from ISIS’s allies in the Gulf States? And if they did, why not say so, and if they did say so, why on earth would anyone believe them?

    FWIW, I understand Israel had a chemical weapons production program, based out of Dimona like the nuke program, which they may or may not have halted. Assuming they no longer hold the sarin they once did, I wonder where it went? I can’t see them supplying it to ISIS, even in the relatively small quantities required to pull off this operation, if it was indeed conducted by Sunnis/ISIS deliberately and with sarin rather than through some other means.

  6. James

    Watching the ANNA video shows plainly that we didn’t get much ROI for our $63million spent on Tomahawks. Unless of course it stops Assad from doing it again, but I doubt it will.

    Expensive weapons that destroy cheap ones. It’s the American way.

  7. Max Popenker

    “You have to wonder what the old Soviet authorities were thinking (back in the Brezhnev days) to transfer biological and chemical weapons to guys like Khadafy, Saddam Hussein and Assad”

    Hmm.. “As part of Project 922, German firms helped build Iraqi chemical weapons facilities such as laboratories, bunkers, an administrative building, and first production buildings in the early 1980s under the cover of a pesticide plant. Other German firms sent 1,027 tons of precursors of mustard gas, sarin, tabun, and tear gasses in all. This work allowed Iraq to produce 150 tons of mustard agent and 60 tons of Tabun in 1983 and 1984 respectively, continuing throughout the decade. All told, 52% of Iraq’s international chemical weapon equipment was of German origin. One of the contributions was a £14m chlorine plant known as “Falluja 2”, built by Uhde Ltd, a UK subsidiary of a German company; the plant was given financial guarantees by the UK’s Export Credits Guarantee Department despite official UK recognition of a “strong possibility” the plant would be used to make mustard gas.[4] The guarantees led to UK government payment of £300,000 to Uhde in 1990 after completion of the plant was interrupted by the first Gulf War.[4] In 1994 and 1996 three people were convicted in Germany of export offenses”
    source: Wikipedia.

    Bad, bad Brezhnev – or wait, who was in charge of FRG and UK at the time?

    1. Aesop

      Going out on a limb, Max, that would be the (then) West Germans, and the Brits.
      We didn’t have the same sort of leash on our allies at the time as your former minders were fond of.

      And yes, it still makes the companies that sold them the stuff, and the governments that nonetheless allowed it, short-sighted douchebags, but no one I’m aware of has ever argued to the contrary.

      None of which addresses what technical assistance regarding CWs and BWs the Soviets supplied Syria under Brezhnev et al.
      Perhaps you thought we missed that bit of legerdemain.

      It also overlooks the non-zero probability that a significant source of CWs possessed by the Syrians now, appeared there magically in the run-up prior to OIF, on night flights from Baghdad and surrounding sundry locations.

      In any event, it’s never wise to give live hand grenades to infants.

      1. Max Popenker

        U.S. officials have long denied acquiescing to Iraqi chemical attacks, insisting that Hussein’s government never announced he was going to use the weapons. But retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona, who was a military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 strikes, paints a different picture.

        “The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn’t have to. We already knew,” he told Foreign Policy.

  8. Bonifacio Echeverria

    Still… gas attack on poor poor civilians? While winning? Perfectly aware that the only red line for the West is that sort of things? To kill some high-rank rebel meeting (just like the Russians did not have drones and smart munitions exactly for that)? Begs the question how Assad has managed to live so long being sooooo stupid.

    Pics or didn’t happen.

    And yes, it looks to me like a monstruous overkill for half a dozen museum pieces and no degradation whatsoever of the operational capabilities of the AFB targeted. Clinton times are back, it seems.

    1. Aesop

      “No degradation”??

      I’ll just leave this here:

      13 HASs hit, 20 a/c scrapped, 5 maintenance workshops destroyed, 7 of 9 fuel sites destroyed, an entire SA-6 defensive battery destroyed, 10 ammunition bunkers destroyed.

      I’ma go with the idea that things are a little beyond “no degradation whatsoever of the operational capabilities”, but that’s purely because I know that squadrons need petty ancillary things like fuel, bombs, maintenance, and oh yes, aircraft in order to have any operation capabilities.

      This is an ex-squadron.

      You’ll of course note the pics of all that at the site.

    1. Aesop

      See above link.

      The first requirement of telling points, I think, would be an acquaintance with the facts on the ground.
      Other than that colossal failure by Saker…

  9. bloke_from_ohio

    I once had to investigate the feasibility of cratering a runway with F-16s armed with 500lbs dumb bombs. Our model said it would have taken well over 1000 sorties to get the effect we were looking for. It was a toy problem meant to introduce analysts to combat modeling and linear optimization, but still an instructive experience even without modeling enemy repairs.

    Airfields are easy to damage, but hard to kill. They are just big lines of concrete. If you want to take an airfield out of the fight, and you are unwilling to glass it, you need to occupy it. You can slow down regeneration by mining the hell out of it or sliming it with chemical agents (terrain denial). You can degrade the fields utility by attacking the ramps, the fuel dumps, and the ammo storage yards. But all that stuff can be repaired and replaced too.

    Even if you physically own the field the enemy can always retake it. They just need the will and resources to regenerate it once they regain control. By way of example, once the coalition retook Q-West from Da’esh, our engineers got it back up and running pretty quick. Da’esh made a way worse mess of Q-West than the Tomahawks did to Assad’s field. It was also chock full of IEDs when we got it back, but we cleared those and are now using it. (The wisdom of using all the resources we did in regenerating Q-West instead of going two miles east into the desert and starting from scratch is a debate for another time.)

    1. Boat Guy

      Soviet-designed and built airfields are even more difficult to kill because their run-and taxi-ways are usually constructed of lozenge-shaped “pavers” especially so that bomb damage is easily and quickly repaired.

    2. Aesop

      In frequent online discussions with a field-grade USAF mission planner, the point was driven home to many armchair strategists that “amateurs bomb runways, professionals bomb a/c and support facilities.”
      The thought, expressed multiple times, was that any idiot suggesting bombing the runways was taken outside and beaten to a pulp with blunt instruments, and then assigned to burn feces with diesel fuel and a stirring stick until the lesson was thought to have sunk in.

      1. James

        If memory serves me correctly, the Brits lost a bunch of Tornados in the Gulf War trying to bomb runways using low-level tactics. The Iraqi AA just zeroed in on the approach/departure ends and had a good old fashioned duck hunt.

      2. Hognose Post author

        The French did develop (and sell rather widely) a special weapon called the Matra Durandal, which uses a tungsten nose and a rocket booster to go deep and really heave the crap out of a runway. Much harder engineering problem that the usual HE GP bomb crater.

    3. Sommerbiwak

      Using 500 pound bombs is probably not so useful. A Luftwaffe engineer (both a degree in engineering and a digger) told me that he wasn’t afraid of bombs. they make only a few holes (sometimes big), but are easily filled and paved over. What he saw as a bigger problem was cluster bombs making many many small holes in the runway because those take more time to repair. Especially if mines are dropped mixed into the cluster bombs to slow down repairs even more.

      In the end attacking the logistics and planes themselves he agreed with you. fewer targets and less spread out over an area and thus easier to kill.

  10. bloke_from_ohio

    This just strikes me as absurd. If we are into “red lines” why would we not just set them at killing civilians period? Or, am I just being to rational by focusing on what the actual effects on the ground were compared to how they were achieved? All this talk of normalization is silly.

    1. bloke_from_ohio

      How is getting ones ticket punched by a gas attack make the victim less dead than a bullet, bomb, or a knife?

      1. Boat Guy

        P’raps no less dead, but the process seems worse to me. Were I required to choose I’d prefer a rifle bullet.

      2. Aesop

        Perhaps it should be instructive that, since WWI, no one (until recent incidents, and all in the ME) has used chemical WMDs, and that current and long-standing US military and strategic doctrine is to regard an attack with CWs as the equivalent of a nuke strike, and policy, planning, and training dictates that it will receive en equivalent response, in the mid-kiloton range, for any breach of decorum in that regard.

        Assad has been put on notice that next time, the Tomahawk used (and it will be just one) may be carrying a W-80, instead of a few hundred kgs of high explosive.

        How funny that is at that time, he and his Russian allies will best be able to judge for themselves.
        Provided they’re upwind, and/or sufficiently shielded from the immediate blast effects.

        The point is you can put down a rebellion in furtherance of retaining power, but you may not use WMDs to do it.

        Assad’s perspicacity may or may not be up to the task of grasping that lesson, but Putin’s assuredly is.

        1. Sommerbiwak

          There are Tomahawks able to carry nukes? I thought those have been withdrawn from service decades ago without replacement.

          1. pdxr13

            If a Tomahawk can carry 900 pounds of HE, it can carry a Dial-a-Yield nuke. If you want bigger/more, the USAF can deliver air-launched cruise missiles from B-1’s and B-52’s from other places on shorter notice than giant boat in Med. Cue R E M “it’s the eotwawki, and I feel fine!”.

        2. James the Russian Analyst

          “Assad’s perspicacity may or may not be up to the task of grasping that lesson, but Putin’s assuredly is.”

          When the Houthi missiles suddenly get a hell of a lot more accurate or start deploying decoys to blow by Patriots and blow a Royal Saudi Air Force base hangar to hell (hopefully without a few Brit contractor maintenence guys), me thinks Aesop won’t notice.

          Yes Aesop, team GCC AlCIAeda is still losing to the SAA and losing in Yemen, one Houthi RPG or Konkurs incinerated Saudi Bradley or Hummer at a time. Proxy wars go both ways and U.S. allies, especially when they’re like the Saudis known for their cowardice and let Uncle Sam fight for him tendencies, can bleed and die too.

      3. Cap'n Mike

        While stationed in Europe, I spent a lot of time training in MOPP Level 4.
        Its not a pleasant experience.
        Nobody wants to see Chemical weapons normalized in warfare.

        1. Hognose Post author

          I have conducted parachute jumps in all MOPP levels, which is to my mind the ultimate misery drill, until I remember that aviators aviate and tankers clank in this stuff. (Modern armor has HEPA filters and overpressure systems instead, but they probably make the crews suit up just for GPs).

          Korea also gives everybody plenty of chances to practice wearing chemical protective gear.

          In the old M17 masks, jumping was like taking your life in your hands 75% blindfolded. We tested a mask with a single large visor (like the av/ armor masks) and it was much better, but it failed some other test. I think they adopted a ground forces mask like that ~25 years later around the time I retired.

    2. Aesop

      Killing civilians has happened in every war, since forever, and always will.
      Incidental/accidental, is justified, and overlooked.

      Deliberate is serious douchebaggery.

      Deliberate with WMDs merits a smackdown whenever practicable, as in this case.

      Dear Mr. Assad,
      You had five airbases.
      Now it’s four.
      Would you care to try for three?
      Or maybe none??
      Your move.
      – Donald

  11. Eric

    “We spent some time at a base in Uzbekistan…”

    I am assuming you were part of Task Force Dagger, out of K2, Hognose? No reply needed… I am reading Robin Moore’s book on TF Dagger now… awesome!

    1. Hognose Post author

      Yeah, K2. TF Dagger was replaced by TF Arrowhead, by TF Whitehorse, by TF Arrowhead (same poor bastards, six months after leaving). I was with Whitehorse and then went down on TF Tide / Op Roll Tide into central Afghanistan.

      Re: Robin’s book. Oh, there’s a story in that. There are two essential parts to the book. The part he wrote and the part that was added to it by J. Keith “Jack” Idema. Basically, every single word that mentions “Jack” is false and was put there by him himself. He had no portfolio with the US, he was just a self-promoting adventurer who’d been thrown out of two Special Forces Groups. He wound up shacked up with a tranny in Mexico on a stolen ranch; they both died of AIDS.

      The then-DCO of 5th (who commanded Rear D when TF Dagger went forward under COL Mulholland (John), still has Robin’s draft of the book, without all the Jack crap.

      1. Eric

        Thank you… Moore has a bad rep anyway, so I was reading it with cautionary skepticism. Good to know on Idema too. Liked the basis of the book… I had no idea it was SF/SO forces on the ground that tamed the Taliban in the initial days in A-stan without hardly any conventional support.

        Best SF books ever IMHO are John “Tilt” Meyers’s, Lynne Black’s and John Plaster’s MACV-SOG revelations, and OPJB by Christopher Creighton on a WWII SO mission, although there are more SF/SO books out there.

  12. S

    So, Aesop, you suggest a nuke on a key Russian client as a hairtrigger response to reports from ISIS claiming a gas attack from a clever second generation despot who happens to be doing just fine cleaning up the mess George “I survived and thrived the Shoah by participating” Sorearse, Miss Hildebeest, Obozo and the Heinz Frankenstein created. As justification, the danger that ignoring such flimsy claims from taqquiya-ridden barbarians will result in wmd-use becoming accepted, for causing death tolls on a similar scale to a droned wedding, a couple of weekends in Chicago and Detroit, a week on the nations roads, a fortnight in Planned Parenthood clinics, or the same time count of standard medical malpractise in any advanced social democracy. Russia would not do such a stupid thing to help their ally during the endgame of a successful counter-rebellion, but you’d do it for…..the children? Russia, who uses thermobaric and cluster munitions to kill exactly who they want, or hacks smartphones in opposition artillery units and wipes out large military units in minutes using coordinated artillery and rocket fire. You’d gamble on the world finally snapping and reining in the largest rogue state on the planet, just to avenge the rumoured deaths of people from the very same culture you’re justly frightened of importing, because you see how that has turned out here, and in Britain, France, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium; but not South America, Japan, Vietnam, China, Papua, or Haiti, because we were in some way different.

    Apparently it is forgotten that Shrub 2 dismembered Iraq on a proven lie about wmd’s, resulting in the extermination and dislocation of millions, further bankrupting your country and inflaming an already insane death cult, and that the Kenyan bathhouse loiterer’s administration discussed and implemented a false flag gas attack in Syria, deposed Ghaddafi and destroyed Libya after he gave up his gases (and before he could de-dollarise), funneled his weapons to the folks who now claim they’ve been gassed…..but it’s so important for the first use of nuclear weapons just to send a message, that someone calling for cooler heads is instantly equated with the Nazis and the Kaiser’s staff simultaneously. Your concern for ISIS’ precious bodily fluids is touching.

    1. Aesop

      Sorry, I’ll be awhile.
      Your inability to use grammar and punctuation in standard English sentences challenges even me.
      When I can break your paragraphical run-ons and incomplete thoughts into separate coherent statements, I’ll get back to you.

    2. Scott

      “So, Aesop, you suggest a nuke on a key Russian client as a hairtrigger response to reports from ISIS claiming a gas attack from a clever second generation despot …”

      I’m not Aesop, and I don’t play him on TV, but what I read him to say about nukes was this:

      “Perhaps it should be instructive that, since WWI, no one (until recent incidents, and all in the ME) has used chemical WMDs, and that current and long-standing US military and strategic doctrine is to regard an attack with CWs as the equivalent of a nuke strike, and policy, planning, and training dictates that it will receive en equivalent response, in the mid-kiloton range, for any breach of decorum in that regard.”

      so the answer to your (rather long-winded, if whimsically tangential) question is … no. He didn’t suggest that.

      He did suggest that if the US military was attacked with CWs, that such an attack would fall into the same category as a nuke attack.

      Seemed clear as a bell, to me…

      1. S

        And Syria is the 58th state, while Congress no longer needs to approve wars? The moral high ground appears to be a molehill in a valley. As to awful death by chem, yes, much better to die or be maimed by explosives, napalm, phosphorus or be torn apart by high velocity bullets.

        1. Aesop

          The US Congress hasn’t approved a formal declaration of war since 1941; they have given approval for every conflict since then, including the understanding that for some things, the execution will happen on command, with or without their input.
          That’s what “executive branch” and “commander in chief” explicitly intends to convey.

          If you have a gripe with international conventions and the Laws of Land Warfare, your beef is with 150 or so co-signatory nations meeting in Geneva.

        2. DSM

          There is a lot more to the War Powers Act than Congress making a declaration. Most folks don’t get past the first page however.

        3. Scott

          No one suggested anything about what is or isn’t a US state has anything to do with anything.

          If Trump had actually responded to the CW attack on Syrians with nukes, then your non sequitur would perhaps … sequitur.

          BTW, I’m no yuge fan of Trump, nor his response. I am a fan of reading comprehension and measured application of logic. Perhaps that is culturally insensitive of me to expect that.

    3. Aesop

      1) No, I didn’t suggest that, nor anything like it.
      US officially stated policy states that.
      Starting in 1969, continuing on to the 1975 Geneva Protocol, and ultimately the United States’ unilateral renunciation of any use whatsoever of chemical weapons in 1991. So if you have a gripe, take it up with Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Bush (41), as well as NSAs Kissinger, Scowcroft, and Allen.
      As a consequence of those decisions, the policy of the United States has been to regard any use of chemical weapons against us as the equivalent of a nuclear attack.
      2) It’s evidently escaped your notice, but we currently have US forces in Syria, courtesy of President Obama, and continuing to the present. The quantity of any such killed, or even attacked, by the use of any such weapons, is therefore irrelevant to the policy. That’s cleverly the plain English interpretation of the phrase “any use”, referenced above.
      3) What Russia would or would not do is an open question. They’ve proven, multiple times, perfectly willing to shoot down commercial airliners with the full knowledge they were such before opening fire, both at the height of the Cold War, and much more recently, without so much as a shrug or apology. Currently, there is credible evidence that they knowingly bombed a hospital – I repeat, bombed a hospital – to cover up the most recent use of CWs in Syria by that very same “key client”, as accessories after the fact to the original chemical attack.
      4) I’d gamble nothing; the point at issue is what Assad is willing to gamble. Including not just all out war, but the removal of some good portion of, say, Damascus, from the realm of existence in one large flash, with the epicenter over his residence.
      5) There was no “proven lie” regarding WMDs in Iraq, just the mutual assurance on the part of some 40 or 50 countries (doubtless including your own, wherever that may be) that they were there in 2003.
      Supported by stumbling over the leftovers of same for years afterwards.
      But I’m sure all those bunkers Saddam constructed at great expense under the Tigris River were just for his porn collection; and all those midnight flights out of Baghdad and surrounding environs to Syria just prior to OIF were just party trips on the eve of war, and nothing more sinister. Because you know how those Muslims like to get their freak on before a good Mother Of All Battles.
      6) Last I looked, the inflamed death cult pulled off a small incident around 9/11/01 – perhaps you heard about it – long before Shrub (there is no Shrub 2, so if you’re going to use the idioms, please, get them straight) invaded or dismembered anyone. So using Iraq’s troubles afterwards as some left-handed justification for their perpetual psychotic sociopathy simply isn’t rational.
      7) It’s also escaped your notice that as a point of historical record, the first use of nuclear weapons was in August of 1945. Not some time in the near future. But by a strange coincidence, militaristic despots and fanatical religious beliefs were also in play in that case also.
      8) 58 cruise missiles was a message. The message was “Put the CWs away, and leave them there.” Nuking Assad won’t be a message, it’ll be a final settling of accounts, should he prove illiterate concerning the first notice. Putin, in any event, doubtless speaks fluent diplomatic language, and the ultimatum that ends with the phrase “grave consequences” usually ends with a punctuation that shows up on missile warning satellites.
      9) My only concern with ISIS’ precious bodily fluids (nice try about the reference; shame it has nothing to do with anything I wrote) is in hoping they are spilled onto the desert hellhole that spawned them, by any side , and as soon as practicable. So long as it doesn’t involve the further use of WMDs on civilians, or our troops.
      9) I have no idea what you’re talking about regarding equating anyone with Nazis or the Kaiser’s staff. Whatever dog whistle you’re responding to, I suggest you get your hearing checked.
      In any event, it has a much to do with me as twinkies do with bouillabaisse or credenzas.

      Kudos on a writing style that would give Lewis Carroll and Samuel Taylor Coleridge a run for their money, but minus points if it’s nothing but posting while actually on acid.

      I hope that clears things up for you.

  13. Plays Chess

    The perspectives and opinions on this current state of affairs are getting heated. And I don’t want to add to that heat but I wanted to ask or air some questions. The USG and its close allies appear to have an obsession with getting rid of Assad. Syria under Assad with Iran and Russia resists and frustrates whatever goals, objectives or aims the West has for Syria. The USG has the goal that Assad must go. Why? What did he do to the US ? Is the son guilty of the sins of the father? Anyone ever seen a declaration of war from Syria delivered to the US and vice versa? President Trump held the moral high ground until the missile launch. That high ground is squandered. The US demands regime change whilst still supporting Saudi Arabia a monarchy not that much older than the Assad order. The Saudis are allowed to still spread their errors and subjects worldwide, along with having its subjects of the former Saudi king hijack planes into US citizens and landmarks. Turkey and its resurgent neo Ottoman ruler fall into the same category of disgust considering their treatment of religious minority’s for the past century. Why again are the USG and its allies and proxies present on the sovereign territory of another nation for if the USG and its allies cannot clearly state the goals and ends of why they are there, than maybe those goals are not just. President Trump is now wading into a conflict his predecessor could not win with proxies or what passed for diplomacy and he is now stuck with allies and interests and the consequences of his own decisions as president up till this point. And so far I’m not persuaded that this conflict is a just conflict for those who seek Assad’s overthrow or diminishment.

    1. Paul Rain

      Good question. Assad of course is no danger to the US, just US allies. Let me speculate, out of the three primary suspects- Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Our Greatest Ally- the ally that the world media and the deep state are targeting Assad on behalf of may be the most dangerous ally of all. The ally that in 1967 attacked a US Navy vessel, murdered 34 sailors, grievously wounded nearly two hundred more, and got away scot free.

      1. Aesop

        Not quite scot free, Paul.
        They paid some $12.89M in damages for KIAs, WIAs, and damages to the ship.

        The point is nonetheless noteworthy.
        Should I ever hit the Powerball, rest assured I’ll be shooting the screenplay of the events, come hell or high water.

        1. Paul Rain

          Mmm, but they received $20 million in aid of various types just that year, and nearly an order of magnitude more each year even in the years after that. I would not find that harsh punishment, myself.

          1. Aesop

            No argument on that here, either.

            Nothing that couldn’t be better served with 2 hours of screen time in a suitable feature film.

    2. S

      Chessman is Socratically and coolly owning several posteriors. Let’s clam up and ponder, yes?

  14. staghounds

    I’ve never understood why chemicals that don’t tear people o pieces or burn them to ash are fine, but those that don’t are atrocities. But here’s my question-

    “[I]t is difficult to envisage what measures, political or military, the US could realistically take to bring Syria to account. ”

    Is Bashar Assad himself bomb, bullet, and fire resistant? For that matter, is he sarin proof?

    1. Hognose Post author

      The problem with that is that the devil is in the details of applying warhead to forehead.

      I have no idea what the procedure is like now, post-Bush’s wars and Obama’s reckless drone campaign, but in my day to target any specific individual you needed a Presidential Finding. (And very, very occasionally got one). I suspect the authority has been delegated to much lower levels now.

      1. S

        The matter-of-fact way you explain it, there were folks capable and keen, and the only barrier was own political expediency. Dangerous men…I can only hope integrity is as concentrated in that ratified atmosphere as all the other salient attributes.

    2. Max Popenker

      I have a theory to that effect. A while back I’ve read in a book about some old war that it was customary for force commanders not to target or attack enemy headquarters or commanders of equal standing.
      It was, basically, a “honorable game of war” where only game figures (troops) were to be removed from the board, but players remain in the game, regardless of the outcome of each particular play (battle).

      Targeting enemy commander and failing to kill him automatically involves high probability of retaliation on an equal scale.
      And who in the world would want himself to be put in the crosshairs if his own first strike agains opponent payer has failed?
      We all know that secret Service is good, but no one is 100% good, and I bet that mr.Trump does not want himself to be a real target of a dedicated attack, planned by professionals and executed by any means possible.
      Of cause, there are exceptions to that, but to intentionally hunt down and kill a country leader you first have to destroy his forces, to take of his capability to tertibute in case of failure.
      Just imagine what could happen is a dedicated leader like Assad would take it *personally* agains the Trump?

      1. Aesop

        Quite so.
        Even with Saddam, we took out his military,, and only then hunted him from hill to hedge to the hole in which he was hiding.
        And even then, we let an Iraqi court sentence and execute him.

        According to his and contemporaries’ writings, Pres. Kennedy was haunted by the fact that he’d basically hung Diem of SVN out to dry in the 11/63 coup and assassination, right up until his own motorcade through Dallas three weeks later.

  15. James the Russian Analyst

    “he US does it all the time? Prove it.” Double tap Royal Saudi Air Force strikes on funerals in Yemen thanks to U.S. tanker support and spare parts ring a bell? Or more directly, hundreds if not thousands dead for Coalition air strikes in Mosul, but let’s get on our high horses about Aleppo because team moderateGCCAlCIAeda got driven out of that place.

  16. Pingback: A Whole Other Way to Look at Syria | WeaponsMan

    1. Aesop

      Cue our Bloghost’s reply to that in the follow-on Syria strike thread, from yesterday evening:

      I have a whole file on this guy in a folder labeled “Postol, that shit.” He’s been a Russian-line guy for almost twenty years. Before that, he was a Soviet-line guy.
      Basically, he’s MIT’s version of Russia Today. When I saw it was him, I clicked back. Anybody can get the Kremlin line direct, you don’t need Ted Postol to intercede for you.
      ” – Hognose

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