The diplomat added that the trajectory points directly at known Syrian military bases. "There isn't a shred of evidence in the other direction," he said.Not a whole lot to say except that UN report includes some sort of crater analysis that is apparently a high point of the evidence arrayed against the Syrian government.
Let me be the first to say, I have no idea what happened and this is not an attempt to implicate either party. It is an attempt to pour some much needed cold water on a hot situation.
I've conducted over a dozen crater analyses in a combat zone and I have a dead enemy mortar team at the end of that. As a result, I've come to this situation with some skepticism and experience. There are several questions we need to ask about the analysis that was conducted.
*Note* I also used some pics from this site to see what the alleged chemical weapons craters looked like. http://brown-moses.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/finding-exact-location-of-alleged.html
Question 1: was the site tampered with at all?
It's a fact that it took multiple weeks before the team arrived at the crater site. I've seen some pictures of Syrians around the suspected crater and obviously it was several days since the attack. The dirt is again packed tightly. In a couple it's quite clear that the shrapnel was gathered up and stored in a particular site.
That suggests that sites were tampered with. How do we know that the rocket fins were not moved to a different direction? Who was there, what was done on site? Since it's a chemical weapons site, you'd assume there was minimal tampering, but the shrapnel in a pile suggests otherwise.
Question 2: did they actually inspect the site?
It's not possible to do this from a picture. It just isn't. I had a sergeant tell me I was 180 degrees off in where the crater was based on some video evidence. When I told him he could come down to the next crater analysis, he conceded a lack of real interest.
It's very easy to play armchair quarterback on this, but without actually standing over the crater and looking over the exact site, you can easily make mistakes. Things just look different standing exactly on top of it. Does it make sense that the round came this way? Could it have come in anything other than a high-angle arc? You cannot answer that question from a hotel room or even a TOC through a video feed or pictures. Get a radar if you are going that route.
Question 3: was there anyone amongst the inspectors who has done crater analysis before?
I can imagine that there were a number of chemical weapons inspectors present. But how many have actually seen a rocket crater before? Were they surprised to see so much rocket fin still present in the crater? Does this particular model carry any HE or is it all chemical gas? Did the craters appear to be coming from a single back azimuth or was it relatively random?
It's super easy to fuck this up. I got good at it from a combination of necessity and mentoring. I imagine most police work is similar. You just need to learn where to look and how to look before you can find what you need to be good at it. If they sent a bunch of chemos there, it'd be like giving a little child who's never seen it, a basketball and a basketball hoop. He may get perfect form on his own, but probably not without someone else's guidance or a lot of time and energy invested.
There wasn't much time or energy invested, so I hope someone from the UN that went there knew what to look for.
Question 4: did the inspectors come with a preconceived notion of where the rockets came from?
I cannot tell you how many times I saw shitty crater analysis because "we know" it's from over there. Mortars make a V back towards their point of origin (POO), artillery usually does the opposite. Rockets can do either depending on the type and angle of attack. But at the end of the day, to the untrained eye it's a hole in the ground. Give it a week and it really is just that. Especially if someone digs through it. It's very easy to see what you want to see, and if someone "helps" you think that, it can seem overwhelmingly obvious. Especially when you're taking fire.
One of the first ones that I did, I confidently assessed that my predecessor had gotten the POO correctly and we laid some suppressing artillery fire on that spot. My sergeant, though, had the presence of mind to ignore my ignorance and start combing through the actual crater. He pulled out the fin a little and I saw to my amazement that I was off by about 90 degrees. I looked again and it became so obvious that I was wrong and had suppressed the wrong site. But you live and learn. You get your hands dirty first. You investigate from a position of ignorance and assemble facts.
I will remain skeptical of their assessment because I know others who have been really wrong and I have been wrong as well. I hope that this investigation can overcome its weaknesses