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U.N. sarin investigation 'amateurish'

WASHINGTON – The United Nations investigation into the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in Damascus officially wasn’t designed to assign blame, but even so, the results are “amateurish” and it raises more questions than it answers, according to sources.

Experts who have analyzed the 41-page U.N. investigative report say that it is incomplete, “amateurish” according to one source, and from the report, it is impossible to construct any accurate details about sites investigated.

The report refers to both three sites, then two, and doesn’t address another two sites altogether as having been targeted.

There also is conflicting information on the samples taken from the various sites to determine whether chemical weapons were used, analysts of the report say. In some cases, no chemical weapons residue was found in samples taken at the sites.

Although it doesn’t specify, the West has interpreted it to show that the Syrian government was responsible.

Officially called the U.N. Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, the 41-page report acknowledged what no one disputes – that poisonous gas, namely sarin, was used on a “relatively large scale.”

The Western assumption is that the Syrian government lobbed poison gas artillery rounds into the outskirts of Damascus on Aug. 21, killing some 1,429 people, including more than 400 children. The United States and its allies maintain that the Syrian opposition is incapable of such an attack.

This assumption, however, conflicts with other data provided to the United Nations by the Russians. That information, contained in a 100-page report, has yet to be released.

However, informed sources have told WND that the information explains the poison gas – sarin – was produced in a predominantly Sunni region of Iraq. It then was transported to Turkey, where it was distributed to Islamist militant foreign fighters for their use.

The information centers around the sarin attack on Aleppo, Syria, in March in which some 29 civilians and 15 Syrian government troops were killed by the artillery filled with poison gas.

WND also has obtained a classified document from the U.S. military’s National Ground Intelligence Center that says the same thing.

Sources add that since its distribution in August 2013, “significant” production of sarin continues in Iraq and Turkey by the al-Qaida-affiliated group Jabhat al-Nusra.

In embracing the rushed U.N. conclusions, the U.S., Britain and France said that the report indicates the regime conducted the attacks.

The report, however, said no such thing, since the U.N. investigating team was not mandated by the U.N. General Assembly to assign blame.

Separately, a U.S. military source has told WND that U.S. intelligence-gathering capabilities never detected any Syrian government activity that day in the area from where the U.S. contends the poison gas-laden rockets were fired.

To bolster that claim, the source said that intelligence-gathering systems have been scouring all of Syria for more than a year.

Just as the U.S. won’t state either the origin of its intelligence or its details in determining that the Syrian government was the culprit, the U.N. report also is vague in many respects.

While the report talks of five sites hit by the poison gas, it refers to three – Moadmiytah, Ein Tarma and Zamalka – but only goes into detail on Moadmiytah and Ein Tarma.

It talked of the Moadamiyah site, for example, of having been “well-traveled by other individuals both before and during the investigation.” It added that fragments from the artillery and other possible evidence had been “clearly handled/moved prior to the arrival of the investigation team.”

Sources say that this reflects serious contamination of the crime site.

The report further pointed out that the rocket motor without the warhead had been found in a small crater in a courtyard. However, there was no indication of blast damage around the crater and the warhead wasn’t present, according to analysts.

Yet, the U.N. investigators identified the munitions as a 140mm rocket fired by a BM-14 multiple rocket launcher, and 330 mm rockets, both of which raised immediate questions, since the Syrian army doesn’t have in its inventory either 140mm or 330mm rockets.

In addition, investigators also suggested a trajectory from damage to a nearby “fence/trellis” and that the rocket struck the second floor corner of an adjacent apartment building. However, there were no intact identifiable munitions fragments found at the second location.

“Considering that the rocket ricocheted off of a building before hitting the ground and at some point had been separated from its warhead means it is impossible to calculate a launch trajectory,” one analyst said.

At the Zamalka/Ein Tarma sites, the report stated that the rocket found by the investigative team “on the roof penetrated a cinder-block wall and a rebar containing concrete floor before coming to rest in a room below.”

However, sources say that the suspected warhead casing was found in front of the first wall, raising question as to how a rocket can be found in two places.

As with the Moadmiytah site, the sites showed extensive contamination. In addition, the munitions used at this site similarly were a 140mm rockets.

Other sources say that the 330mm rockets also used apparently had no markings on them and is of an unusual design, possibly constructed by anyone with a sheet metal background. In addition, they say that the Syrian government uses ballistic missiles to deliver chemical weapons, not 140mm or 330mm rockets found by the U.N.

Global Security, which does a detailed inventory of military equipment fielded by most national armies, including the Syrian army, has charts that show the Syrian army fields large numbers of BM-21s, but no BM-14s.

Sources say that an army rocket unit usually wouldn’t fire a single rocket from the BM-14 multiple rocket launcher. The BM-14 is designed to launch 16 rockets in a salvo for saturation strikes.

As for the 330mm, while U.N. inspectors found parts of such a rocket, it could not match it to any known systems. In addition, it had a tin can-like warhead that doesn’t resemble anything in the Syrian army inventory. The closest weapon to that would come close to the 330mm rocket is Iran’s Fajr-5 333mm rocket, but it’s 18 feet long, sleek looking and pointed at the end. The 330mm rocket, including the can-appearing warhead was no more than an estimated five feet.

Ironically, Al Jazeera on Sept. 17 had published a video of a rocket manufacturing workshop run by the Free Syrian Army, an element of the opposition which the U.S. and its allies back in the Syrian civil war.

The video shows computer driven lathes. The video narrator was told that the shop produces three kinds of rockets used by rebel forces – one of which has the same range as the BM-14 launcher. The shop makes the rocket bodies and motors, the warheads and the detonators.

“The result of this is that there remain many open questions and all judgments about who fired are probabilities judgments,” one source said. “More field work is needed and the Syrian president said in an interview on the 17th (of September) that U.N. inspectors have been invited back to Syria.”