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The State Department Lies With Its Satellite Pictures Of Syria – No Artillery “Deployed”
Posted on February 15, 2012

There is A note from Ambassador Ford on recent events in Syria which shows a satellite picture of Homs, Syria, titled “Security Operations Escalate in Homs” and “Bab Amr Neighborhood”. The picture was allegedly taken on February 6, 2012 though the copyright mark says “© 2011 Digital Globe”.

A deeper look at the ambassador picture reveals that it does not show what its labels say. In fact the picture shows only ambiguous stuff from the very border edge of Bab Amr not from within the city.

There are additionally satellite pictures at the State Department’s website allegedly showing “operational deployment” of Syrian artillery.

Analysis of the State Departments satellite pictures, which were promoted by news agencies and various papers, clearly shows that these pictures of artillery guns “operational deployed against XYZ” were all taken of guns training within military barracks or well known training areas and not in active deployment.

(A Google Earth KMZ file with the localities of the State Department pictures and the military areas marked is provided below.)

There is so far no proof that any artillery has been deployed at all though it is known that mortars have been used by the rebel side. The State Department obviously knows what the pictures really show but is trying to use the lie of artillery deployment against the rebels as a pressure argument for military intervention.

The ambassador’s picture:

Certain areas of the picture are marked as “Fires”, “Military vehicles” and “Smoke”. But when one compares the bigger version of the picture with older pictures of those places from Google map and Google Earth all marked areas seem to be outside of Bab Amr and depict nothing that is obviously of military nature.

The place marked as “Fires” is actually at a bend of canal outside of the city and what the picture shows as burning seem to be on or, away from the city, right next to a canal (Note: the north adjustment in the picture as well as the following ones shown by the north arrow is different from the Google maps where north is always towards the top. One has to use Google Earth or ones brain to correct for that.) in a agricultural zone with a bit of industry. I can not identify any building that could be burning there so that might as well be trash or some agricultural stuff that is going up in flames.

The part marked “Military vehicles” points into an agricultural area with few houses and only small roads. The magnification actually shows a place some 750 meters north-west of there on the M1 highway crossing “Homs Western Entrance”. There are clearly some twelve trucks standing in a row on the highway in the ambassador’s picture but it is not clear why these are supposed to be military especially as some of them seem to be of light color and not camouflaged.

The part labeled “Impact craters”, “Burning Buildings” and “Smoke” do not seem to show such. The “Impact craters” are on the south site of a red-brownish mud soccer field and even the largest magnification and comparison to earlier pictures in Google Earth shows no differences between them and no obvious craters there. The alleged “burning building” on the north-east side of the soccer field seems to be no building at all but smoke coming up from the parking lot north and next to the “Vegetables and Fruit market”. Is someone burning the daily trash?

All three places marked in the ambassadors satellite picture (yellow pins) are well outside and on the western edge of the actual build up area of Homs and of Baba Amr. They show no obvious “security operations”. Why they should be relevant in a million people city is not comprehensible.

The State Department has an additional set of pictures labeled Artillery Support To Government Security Operations. The first is the map that shows the geographic position of the eight satellite pictures of Syrian artillery positions that follow.

Using the State Department map and Google Earth, which latest pictures of those areas are generally from March 2010, I tried to find out where the eight pictures of artillery positions state provided were actually taken.

The first position marked Graphic 2 is some 10 kilometers south-south-west of Al Zabadani. I can not identify the equipment (badly) shown in it. The position seems to be on this hilltop, probably atthis bend (mentally turn that 90° to the right to adjust for north to the right as in Graphic 2). This seems to be part of an older military position and training place as the old dug out position and impact craters in the area show.

The position marked Graphic 3 and Graphic 4 are some 15 kilometers south of Al Zabadani. The older pictures in Google Earth/Map show an obvious military training ground just in that place. There are dug out field positions typical for tanks or artillery. These positions have no obvious common orientation and are therefore likely just training positions.

Graphic 3 shows four tracked howitzers probably 2S1 M-1974 Gvodzika (Carnation) 122-mm Self-Propelled Howitzer of which Syria has some 400. Its exact position can be identified. It is clearly within the military training ground. The exact position of Graphic 4, which shows four field guns, can also be identified. Graphic 4 is labeled “Artillery Operationally Deployed Towards Az Zabadani”. But these guns are on a military training ground. They are probably D-30 2A18M 122-mm Towed Howitzer of which Syria has some 500 pieces. The towing trucks needed to move these guns and their ammunition are not visible in the picture and there are no ammunition pits next to them.

The D-30, like the S21 Gvodzika, has a maximum effective range of 15.3 kilometers. The grounds they are standing on is 15 kilometers away from Al Zabadani. No military would operationally deploy artillery pieces with a maximum range of just 15+ kilometer against a target that is 15+ kilometers away. One wants to be much nearer to the target to have a better chance of actually hitting something and some flexibility to range beyond the target when needed. These are thereby very likely artillery units which are just training on their regular training grounds, NOT units deployed against Al Zabadani.

Graphic 5 is supposed to depict an area 7 to 8 kilometers south of Halbun. Oh, how convenient, that is the north eastern edge of another huge military complex though this time with barracks and parking lots for trucks and other equipment. The complex is north of the city Qudssaya. The current sat picture shows the guns between young trees. As the Google Earth pictures I am working with are older I can not find those young trees and the exact position of these guns.

Onto Graphic 6 some 10 kilometers south-south-east of and “Operationally Deployed Against” Rankus. That depicted place is right here (like always adjust for north orientation) in the mid of a military area which includes barracks, parking lots, repair shops, training areas and ammunition depots. The barrel shaped roof on one building in the picture is easy to identify. The “two legged” guns in the State photo are likely M-46 130mm Towed Guns of which Syria has some 750 pieces. The State photo shows four of them set up in a row but just some 10 meters apart from each other.

If one wants to shoot such guns one does not deploy these just next to each other on a flat parade ground. The muzzle blast (and noise) these guns make is pretty big and loud and any military manual will say that the minimum distance between deployed-for-fire guns should be 50+ meters. This also because any counter fire or simple misfiring should hit just one gun and not also blow up its neighbor. The guns in the picture are hauled out for inspection, basic operation training or maintenance. The are not “operationally deployed” artillery.

Graphic 7 is some 12-13 kilometers east-south-east of Rankus. Fly there with Google Earth and you land right in the mid of, yes, another military installation just north of the town of Heleh. (If you wonder why there are so many military bases around remember that the ones so far are all around the capital Damascus and that Syria has an aggressive neighbor not so far away from there.) The position shown in Graphic 7 is here and even two year old satellite pictures Google provides shows tank tracks on the well used grounds. A sign that it is very, very normal to have those vehicles driving and standing there.

Graphic 8 is supposed to show a Stalin organ type of truck in an area 10 kilometers south east of Homs. Oh wait, there is a big military installation there which has hundreds of trucks. The actual place where the sat pic shows the truck is here which seems to be a workshop or dry training area. (Note the north orientation given in Graphic 8 is a bit off. The north arrow should point towards the bottom right, not to the right.)

Last but not least Graphic 9 mapped as some 15 kilometers east-south-east from Homs.

In fact it is just 100 yards north from where Graphic 8 was taken and within the same barracks and training complex.

Graphic 9 clearly shows a military training ground. There are many dug out U-type emplacements that shield from the front and the sides and allow to pull out to the back. They point into various directions. There are also blast holes in the ground likely from the earlier use of training ammunition in the area. The guns shown are out in the open, not camouflaged and with no ammunition stacks or the like visible nearby.

Lucky guys, these Syrian artillery soldiers. They always seem to “operationally deploy” just a few hundreds yards away from their barracks and without doing any of the laborious digging and ammunition hauling that needs to be done on real deployments.

So while the State Department says these picture are showing guns “operationally deployed against XYZ” I say that’s a lie and bullshit. As a former tank officer who has trained on shooting ranges together with tracked and towed artillery I am pretty sure that all those artillery pictures shown by the State Department are pictures of regular military training and maintenance missions on military barracks and training grounds and not pictures of “operational deployment” against anyone.

It seems that the State Department simply ordered unclassified satellite pictures from Digital Globe, checked the well known training grounds of the Syrian military and where they found inevitably some small artillery units doing their regular training made up the story that those guns are “operationally deployed” against Syrian rebels.

The pictures out of Homs so far showed only indirect mortar fire, not heavy artillery fire from big guns. The suppressed report (pdf) by the Arab League Observer Mission said that the rebels used mortars against the regular Syrian troops and that it were such mortars that killed a French journalist.

44. In Homs, a French journalist who worked for the France 2 channel was killed and a Belgian journalist was injured.

It should be noted that Mission reports from Homs indicate that the French journalist was killed by opposition mortar shells.

There is so far zero proof that the Syrian government has deployed any artillery at all against the rebels. The State Department satellite pictures are surely no such proof and the pictures of damage in the cities as shown in the various videos or pictures are so far not of a level that would be consistent with the use of heavy artillery.

For those interested in checking my analysis here (right click and save file) is a KMZ file for Google Earth with the various places mentioned above marked under StateDepSyriaSat.