Saturday, 30 November 2013

New Key Evidence In Understanding The August 21st Sarin Attack

Yesterday, a video was published online by the website Al-hadath News showing the type of munition used in the August 21st Sarin attack being launched from Qadam Railway Station

There's two minor points to note about this video, and one major point.  At the start of the video, the cameraman describes the weapon as a "Volcano rocket".  As I noted earlier this week, the "Volcano rocket" is a named used for both this weapon, and smaller IRAM-type weapons used by government forces.  It seems now, we finally have a name for this weapon.

The other minor point is about the flag on the truck.  It's not a great shot of the flag, but some people have noted the white circle on a black background looks a lot like the flag used by various Jihadist groups in Syria.  As this photograph of the National Defence Force shows, it's not just Jihadists who use that particular colour scheme

Those are both minor points, but what's extremely unique and important about this video is it shows the impact of the rocket followed by the sound of the explosion.  The detonation is at around 17.5s, and the noise of the explosion can be heard around 23.5s, so that's a delay of around 6 seconds.  The speed of sound at around the altitude is around 337 m/s, so that would mean the range of the munition is around 2022 meters.

I showed this video to Richard Lloyd, who has been studying the munitions used in the August 21st Sarin attack closely, and based on the available evidence, he concluded that the munition was launched at around a 21 degree angle, with a range of around 2.1km.  That reminded me of another video showing the launch and impact of a Volcano, this time fired from Mezzeh airbase

While the impact isn't visible, it appears the flight time is around 20-22 seconds, several seconds longer than the other video.  Richard Lloyd believes that the longer flight time would point to a higher angle of launch, and a longer range.  Based off the two videos Richard Lloyd believes a range of 2-2.5km is reasonable for the Volcano rocket.  That's not to say the maximum range is definitely 2.5km, just that based of available evidence that's a reasonable estimation.

Thank to the UN report we have an idea of the direction the rockets came from, and a recent Al Jazeera Arabic documentary about the August 21st attack might even provide more information

In the film they present what they claim is more evidence from the attack, including two previously unseen Volcano rockets (bringing the total recorded to 8), and what they claim is the azimuths for those two rockets

With the UN report, that's three azimuths, 285, 290, and 307 degrees.  We also know the exact impact location of two of the Volcanoes used in the attack (details here and here).  Given that information, I've put together a map that shows the possible area of origin for the attack based of the possible ranges (click to expand)

What's interesting about this range and the azimuth, is it puts the possibly launch locations inside an area that was part of the Syrian Army's "Operation Qaboun", which was heavily covered by ANNA News.  Their first video was posted on June 24th, with the last video posted on August 20th.  It covered the attempts by the Syrian army to fight their way through a district between Qaboun and Jobar, which would act as a staging point for attacks later on in the year.  Videos posted by ANNA News establish that the Syrian military were operating, and based, inside that area, for example this video from August 5th showing at the bus station to the east of the area

At 1:54 in the below video, filmed on August 10th, you can see the mosque just west of the tank base in the area

Open Source IMINT took a very detailed look at videos posted by ANNA News showing fighting in the area from September onwards, and it shows that region now being used to launch attacks both to the north and the south

After the August 21st attack Storyful collected data on various claims about the impact locations of rockets used in the attack, including the claims by the local LCCs about the impact locations of each rocket.  All the positions were plotted onto a map, with the impact locations reported by the LCC marked in light blue.  According to that map, all the impact locations are within 2.5km of the area controlled by the Syrian army.

So from all this information we can conclude that the Syrian military would have been capable of launching the August 21st Sarin attack, despite the short range of the Volcano rockets.

You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Volcanoes In Damascus - Was Hezbollah Involved With Developing Chemical Munitions?

Regular readers of the blog will be familiar with two weapons used by pro-government forces known as IRAMs (Improvised Rocket Assisted Munitions) and UMLACAs (Unidentified Munitions Linked to Alleged Chemical Attacks), both of which I've written a number of articles on.  At it's most basic, and IRAM is an artillery rocket that's had the standard warhead removed, and replaced by a much larger warhead, and in Syria these have been launched from single barrel stand launchers, and four barrel truck mounted launchers (pictured below)

UMLACAs are munitions that were linked to the August 21st Sarin attack, and come in both an explosive type, and chemical type.  The munitions come in two sizes, with the larger type, fired from a single barrel launcher, shown below

One question that remains is what the Syrian forces call these weapons.  The following video posted by the Syrian National Defence Force is our first clue to what the IRAM is called

At 1m28s the narrator describes them as "bourkan" rockets, which translates to Volcano, and if you search for "Volcano" in Arabic there's some results that show the same munition appearing to be used, including the following video

The description claims to show Hezbollah using a Volcano rocket, and is a copy of an earlier video claiming to show Hezbollah in Eastern Ghouta, Damascus.  Hezbollah appear to have used their own design of IRAM in the fighting in Qusayr, Homs, and it would be interesting if both the Syrian National Defence Force and Hezbollah are using the same term for IRAMs, even though the design differs

Hezbollah "Volcano" in Qusayr, Homs
Then, a couple of days ago, the following picture was posted on a pro-Hezbollah Facebook group

The original Facebook post has been deleted, but the contents was reported here.  This is a screengrab taken from the video showing the Syrian National Defence Force launching UMLACAs, but what's interesting is commentators on Facebook claimed that this was a Hezbollah designed weapon, known as the "Volcano" described as "The Pride of Lebanese Industry".  It could be said that the explosive version of the UMLACA is basically a larger version of the IRAM, and a suspected chemical variant of the IRAM shared at least one interesting feature with the chemical version of the UMLACA.  It should be kept in mind these are just claims by commentators on a pro-Hezbollah Facebook page, so claims the weapon is Hezbollah made should be taken with a pinch of salt, and the NDF video showing the UMLACA claims it's a Syrian made weapon.

This leaves many unanswered questions; it's not clear if both the IRAMs and UMLACAs are known as Volcanoes, or if it's an error by the commentators on the pro-Hezbollah Facebook page.  If they are known as Volcanoes, does that suggest the UMLACA could be a more advanced version of the IRAM?  Was Hezbollah involved with the use of IRAMs by the Syrian military, and did that in turn lead to involvement with the development of the chemical UMLACA? Does that mean Hezbollah has access to UMLACAs, potentially their first chemical weapon?  At this stage it's too earlier to know, but it does add a new twist to the tale of IRAMs and UMLACAs in Syria.

You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Evidence Of Very Large DIY Barrel Bombs Being Deployed In Syria

Long term readers of the blog may remember that throughout 2012 I was tracking evidence of a type of DIY weapon being used by the Syrian air force widely described as a barrel bomb.  Anyone familiar with videos coming from Syria will be very familiar with the term "barrel bomb", a term that has been used to describe both conventional military bombs, such as the OFAB 100-120, and the DIY barrel bombs, which has led to a certain amount of confusion.

DIY barrel bombs were first recorded in late August 2012, and were generally metal barrel, pipes, etc, filled with explosives and frequently shrapnel, and dropped from the back of Mil Mi-8/Mi17 transport helicopters.   When I originally investigated these munitions there was a lot debate other whether or not the Syrian air force would use improvised explosive devices as weapons, with even one commentator describing the idea as "Barrel bomb baloney", but eventually videos emerged showing a helicopter crew throwing DIY barrel bombs out the rear of a helicopter, and footage from Taftanaz air base showing DIY barrel bombs in storage after it was overrun by opposition forces.

One flaw with these DIY barrel bombs is they all appeared to be detonated using a simple wick fuse, like lighting a stick of dynamite.  The problem with this is if the wick is too short the munition will detonate mid-air, and if it's too long there's a chance the bomb will be smash to pieces before it detonates.

Over the past few months I've been in contact with Richard Lloyd, Warhead Technology Consultant at Tesla Laboratory Inc, and among the various topics we've been discussing, he's highlighted a number of videos that show what appear to be unusually large explosions, and what appears to be DIY barrel bomb being dropped from helicopters that appear much larger than ones we've seen in the past.

Videos have now been posted from the town of Kafr Zita, Hama that appear to confirm the theory that larger DIY barrel bombs have now been deployed

Both videos show large DIY barrel bombs that have failed to detonate.  The second video shows one that appears to have partly exploded, peeling back the thick metal, but what's very interesting is the design of the DIY barrel bomb in the first video.

As I mentioned before, one flaw with the barrel bomb was the wick fuse causing problems with detonation.  The large DIY barrel bomb in the first video instead appears to have an impact fuze, which is removed from the munition

It appears there might have possibly been two impact fuzes, probably because of the broad front end (something also seen in munitions for the opposition's Hell Cannon), and a lack of aerodynamics to ensure the bomb lands right on the tip of it's nose.  That lack of aerodynamics has been partly addressed by whoever put this bomb together by the addition of tail fins

Richard Lloyd believes this would have been able to carry 1250-1750 lbs (approx 565-795kg) of explosive, and suggests the tail fins wouldn't have been very effective because of that.  What this does show is the Syrian Air Force is deploying huge DIY bombs, and they are attempting to make the fuzes far more effective than previous model.

You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Captured Jabhat Al-Nusra Administrative Documents Show Details Of Arms, Foreign Fighters

The following images were sent to me by the photographer Victor Lacroix, and show documents captured by the YPG, operating near Ras al Ein, from Jabhat al-Nusra.  It includes images from three administrative documents showing weapons distributed, a register of Syrian fighters, and a register of foreign fighters.   Full translation of these documents can be found here.

This first document contains a list of weapons, ammo, and equipment distributed to Jabhat al-Nusra fighters.  Whoever has been filling this in has been rather inconsistent with the details they are providing, with page 7 listing the exact type of weapon in the "Kind of Weapon" field, while pages 8 and 9 only lists the serial number.  It also lists a number of unusual names for the weapons, such as ashrawiya, sarookh, etc.  My translator contacted a number of former Syrian army soldiers, who told him they were mostly names used for variants of the AK-47
Ashrawiya: literally: of ten = AK-47 with the number 10 carved on its side.
Sarookh: literally: rocket =    AK-47 with a rocket-like shape carved on top of the weapon.
German: = AK-47 with a folding stock to the side (the stock is bent to the side of the weapon, not under it)
Naqeera (or maybe faqeera): very unusual name, maybe used by non-Syrians
Swaqi: very unusual name, maybe used by non-Syrians
You'll also note the first names of the men receiving the weapons as followed by names such as al-Ansari and alTunisi.  These appear to be references to where they are from, so al-Tunisi would be Tunisia, al-Ansari is a Syrian, al-Jazrawi is Iraqi, etc.  It seems likely al-Tamimi and al-Shummari refer to tribal names that extend across various borders.

The next set of documents are registers of foreign and local Jabhat al-Nusra fighters.  Translated versions of these documents can be found here

This lists the name of the member, including where they are from, the date they joined, their speciality, marital status, financial status, their health, and additional notes.  We can see there's a mix of fighters from Tunisia, Bahrain, Turkey, Iraq, and Syria, with a variety of specialities from baking, car bombs, nursing, Sharia law, and media expertise.  About a quarter of the men are married, and the majority appear to have "bad" finances.

Thanks to Aaron ZelinPieter Van Ostaeyen, and Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi for help with this piece.

You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at

Friday, 15 November 2013

Photographs Of Rocket Propelled Grenade Remains Recovered At Today's Protest In Tripoli, Libya

Thanks to Victor Breiner who sent me the following photographs he took at anti-militia protests held in Tripoli, Libya, today, where it's been reported large number of protesters were killed and injured when one of the militias they were protesting against fired on the crowd

This is the fin assembly from the rear of a projectile used by launchers such as the RPG-7, which can be seen in the below reference image

This photographic evidence appears to support the claim that the protesters were attacked with rocket propelled grenades, along with other weapons.  

If anyone has any more images of the remains of munitions recovered from the scene of the attack then feel free to send them to me at the below contact details.

You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at

Investigating Claims Of Syrian Opposition Members Executing Prisoners

The following video, titled "FSA Terrorists Massacre Imprisoned Syrian Army Soldiers in Quneitra, Golan Heights (18+)", was posted on the YouTube channel Eretz Zen War Vids, claiming to show evidence that Syrian opposition groups executed prisoners.  The video description states
This two-part video shows strong evidence that militants from the "Free Syrian Army" (FSA) massacred Syrian Army soldiers from the Fourth Platoon of Brigade 61 in Harak town of Quneitra province, in Syria's southern Golan Heights area. The FSA terrorists also attacked a UN outpost in that area before getting to the Syrian Army location.
The participating FSA brigades include Grandsons of the Prophet Brigades, Blessing of the Compassionate Brigade, Martyr Salah al-Jolani Brigade, Freedom Martyrs Brigade, and Sibteen Brigade.
Warning: Graphic content (not for shock, 18+, not for faint-hearted, viewer discretion advised, aimed only at documenting crimes by FSA terrorists in Syria)
In this post I hope to take a closer look at this video, but also highlight some of the ways in which the person producing this video could have helped anyone trying to investigate the claims made in the video, for example news organisations who might have wanted to cover it.

When I see a video like this that's been edited, the first thing I want to find it the original source videos, to confirm the uploaded date, original description, and other details.  Whenever I upload copies of videos onto my YouTube channel, I include details from the original video, including a link to the original video (for example here), so even if the video is deleted the original information that was attached to the video is preserved.  In the case of the above video, that information hasn't been included, so that means I have to go find it myself.  That's okay for someone like me who spends all day looking at videos from Syria, but you can't expect a journalist to do that, or even know how to do it effectively, so it's best to make life easy for them.

Fortunately, the person creating the above video took screenshots of the channels they took the videos from, so after asking for help to get the names typed out in Arabic, I put them into YouTube search.  Again, this is a step that could have been skipped if those names and links were just put into the YouTube description.

That came up with two YouTube channels where I found the two videos.  It's always best to find the original channels these videos were posted on, as that's where you'll find all the original information, and if the video has been posted elsewhere by the groups involved (Facebook for example) then you can just paste the video URL into Google, and see where it appears.

The first video, showing the men still alive, was posted on a channel that translates to News Center Free Syria.  Frequently, the channels used to post original videos are named after local areas or opposition groups, so that's the first clue it might not be the original channel the video was uploaded to.  If you then take a look at the list of videos on the channel, you'll also note there's whole variety of different logos on the videos, for example:

This is a pretty strong indication this isn't a channel that posts original videos, so now we need to find the original channel.  Some channels that repost videos use the exact same title as the original video, so that's one place to start, and in the case of this video it's also worth searching for just the name of the town the video was filmed in.  For those of us who don't speak Arabic that means copying the title of the video into Google Translate, then figuring out which word is the name of the town (which in this case translates to "mobility"), then hovering over the English word with the mouse cursor, which highlights the word in the original Arabic text.  Copy and paste that into YouTube search, and away you go.

This will bring up a number of videos, so then it's a case of browsing through the video, looking for ones with matching previews, and seeing which was posted first.  In the case of this video, the first appearance appears to be on the YouTube channel Mhmad Samoor.  Judging from the video descriptions, this channel is posting videos for the local media centre, and generally all media centres have a Facebook page.  So, more copying of Arabic text into Google Translate, and this time we want the name of the media centre.  Paste that into Google, and we get results for Facebook pages with that name.  The results in this case includes this page and this page, both long established pages posting news from the area the video was reportedly filmed in, and both pages features posts made on November 11th featuring the video, (here and here).  So for the first video, we've established the video has been posted on a YouTube channel used by local media centres, the videos have been shared on the Facebook pages of those groups, and what that does is help build the evidence that these videos are authentic.  It seems like a lot of work, but when I'm writing about videos that show significant events, such as war crimes, I'm thinking about getting as much evidence as possible they are authentic.

The second video, showing the corpses of the men in the first video, was taken from the YouTube channel of Liwa Tabaruk ar-Rahman.  They rather handily link their Facebook page in some of the descriptions of their YouTube videos.  Although they don't link the video of the dead men on their Facebook page, they do link other videos from that channel on the Facebook page, dated before and after the video of the dead men.  This gives a great deal of weight to this video being genuine.

At this point we've established the videos are almost certainly genuine, so the question is now, do they match?

The most obvious thing to check is the clothes the men are wearing

1 - Green shirt, black trousers, bare feet.
2 - Black jacket, camouflage trousers, black shoes/socks.
3 - Greenish stripped shirt, blue jeans, blue socks/shoes with white stripes.

4 - Camouflage jacket, blue jeans, bare feet.
5 - Black jacket with a blue trim, camouflage trousers, black shoes/socks.
6 - Camouflage jacket, blue jeans, bare feet.

Of course, clothes can be moved and changed, especially shoes or socks being removed, or jackets being removed or opened, so that should be kept in mind.  Unfortunately in the video of the bodies isn't very good quality, but there's some matches that seem pretty clear

This is clearly a strong match for man number three, same shirt, same blue jeans, and wearing some sort of footwear.  Two of the dead men match the description of two men in the video that wore black jackets, camouflage trousers, and black shoes/socks

However, in the video showing the men alive, one man clearly has no facial hair like the man in the bottom picture

It's also worth noting that one man appears to be absent from this, number 1 in the first video, wearing a green shirt, black trousers, and no footwear.

The video quality isn't great, but among the men there's at least some matches of clothing, but there's also something else that matches in the two videos, pointing towards this being the same incident

In the background of both videos we can clearly see the same debris, in particular two distinct yellow containers, as well as other debris.

It should always be kept in mind during these types of investigations that videos of the same incident may have been posted elsewhere, so it's worth searching for video uploaded using other keywords, such as other names used to describe the location, or names of other opposition groups that were operating in that area at the same time.  In the case of this incident, there was in fact another group operating in the area who filmed the same group of bodies, but much more clearly

The video's narrator doesn't provide too much additional information
Allah Akbar, dead bodies from Assad's dogs inside 4th platoon, aka Khaldoun platoon, after it was liberated by Gurabaa’a Horan Liwa, that belongs to Ahfad al Rassoul (Grandsons of the prophet) group.
But it does give a much clearer view of the dead men, and we can see, as with the video showing the living men, there's two men with camouflage jackets, blue jeans, bare feet.

So it seems certain at least one of the men in the video showing them alive was killed, and also very likely four more of the men were also killed, with the sixth man absent from the videos showing the dead men.

It seems from these videos that these men were killed after they were captured, despite the claims in the Liwa Tabaruk ar-Rahman video they were killed in an ambush.  As there were a number of groups involved in this operation it's unclear which specific group was responsible, but it seems highly unlikely it would have been anyone but one of those opposition groups.

Many thanks to all the people who contributed to this post, including everyone at Storyful's Open Newsroom.  On going discussion of these videos can be found here.

You can also find France 24 Arabic's report on these videos here.

You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Is The Syrian Military Using Another Type Of Chemical Weapon?

Earlier this week I took a detailed look at the use of Improvised Rocket Assisted Munitions (IRAMs) by government forces in Syria.  The IRAMs used in Syria are basically 107mm rockets with the warheads removed, and replaced with much larger warheads, with range and accuracy being sacrificed for explosive power.  This makes it a very effective weapon in urban combat, with video evidence from pro-government channels showing them used to directly attack opposition positions at short range.

As part of that post I linked to a playlist of videos that showed IRAMs filmed by the opposition in towns and cities across the country over the past year.  Richard Lloyd of Tesla Laboratory Inc, who has studied various munitions used in the conflict, contacted me, and noted something very interesting about one of the videos.

Below are several examples of the IRAMs featured in the video.  As you can see, distortion from the original source video aside, they are all pretty much identical

The warhead is totally sealed, with no ports of any kind on the warhead, and the base of the warhead also has no ports, as shown below

Also note the configuration of the nozzles in this video showing an Iranian 107mm rocket used as part of the IRAM.  The number of nozzles vary on the type of rocket, different 107mm rockets have different numbers of nozzles, and the 140mm M14 rocket used in the August 21st Sarin attacks has 10 nozzles 

Richard Lloyd highlighted one video that wasn't like the other.  It shows what appears to be an IRAM with a significantly different design

The video, dated June 30th 2013, describe this as a strange munition dropped from an aircraft (which I believe is possibly an incorrect description of it's deployment), and there's certainly a number of strange things about it.  Photographs taken of the munition gives a clearer view

We can estimate the size of the munition from examining the rocket.  As you can see from the above picture of the Iranian 107mm rocket it's an identical nozzle configuration, so it seems almost certain the rocket is 107mm wide.  Richard Lloyd estimated the size as around 300mm wide,and 650mm long, with a volume of about 40-45 litres.

You'll note the rocket motor has embedded itself deeply into the warhead.  No other example of an unexploded IRAM shows this, and if the warhead was filled with solid explosives then it seems very unlikely to happen.   Richard Lloyd agrees with me that this strongly suggests that the warhead is hollow.

You'll also remember the other IRAMs didn't have a hole or a metal ring on the base of the warhead, so it's already notably different from other IRAMs.  Now let's examine the front of the warhead, which shows something that's extremely interesting

On the left of the warhead is a very unusual square object that appears to be very similar to the plug on the fill port of the munition used in the August 21st Sarin attacks, which I've previously referred to as the UMLACA.  The following photograph shows the base of the UMLACA warhead recovered from the August 21st attack

Aside from the fill port shown above, the UMLACA also had a second port on the base of the warhead, shown on the right in this image

I asked Richard Lloyd what he believe this port to be, and he said based off his knowledge, this is possibly used to arm and/or power the fuze.  There's more discussion of that in this post.

So what we appear to have here is a IRAM with a warhead designed to hold a liquid of some sort.  With only one example of this type of IRAM recorded in Syria so far, and little additional information, it's hard to know exactly what was inside this munition, but it's certainly a very unusual munition that's worth keeping an eye out for in the future.

You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at

Friday, 8 November 2013

The Syrian National Defence Force's Most Devastating Urban Combat Weapon

In late 2012, those of us tracking the munitions used in the Syrian conflict began to see the remains of an unusual munition that opposition activists claimed had been launched from Syrian government positions

The munition appeared to be a 107mm artillery rocket (as used by the widely deployed Type-63 multiple rocket launcher), with the warhead removed and replaced with a much larger DIY warhead with a simple impact fuze.  These munitions, known as Improvised Rocket Assisted Munitions (IRAMs), sacrifice range and accuracy for a massively increased payload.  As John Ismay, a former United States Navy explosives ordnance disposal officer, told the New York Times' At War blog, these IRAMs appeared to be "conceptually identical to the IRAMs used by a particular group of insurgents fighting American forces in Iraq — Kataib Hezbollah".  He goes onto the describe the use of the Iraqi IRAMs
The Iraqi IRAM was purpose-built for one thing: popping over T-walls and Hesco barriers at short ranges that prevented interception by C-RAM and creating mass casualties on-target.
Obviously, in Syria, there was no need for either side to use the munition for this purpose, and there were some who doubted the Syrian government would used improvised weapons, especially inaccurate and powerful weapons in urban areas.

In the following months I continued to collect videos of IRAMs (see here), with the unexploded remains of the munitions showing up in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, and elsewhere.  While it was claimed by opposition members that these munitions were fired by government forces, it wasn't until recently that an increasing body of evidence began to appear showing definite proof that the IRAMs were being used by Syrian government forces.

In late August 2013 a number of images appeared online that confirmed the munitions were being used by Syrian government forces.  First, the capture of a ammo depot in Khanasser featured this pile of IRAMs stored alongside other weapons, including IRAMs in storage crates

Around the same time Jabhat al-Nusra published images of a four-barrel IRAM launcher they claim to have captured from government forces, along with crates full of IRAMs

The final piece of proof was provided by the pro-Government Abkhazian Network News Agency (ANNA), who has rare access to the Syrian military, and regularly posts footage of the Syrian military in action on their YouTube channel.  This video showing "A brief summary of the situation in Syria for 30 August 2013" provided the final proof that the Syrian military were using IRAMs, at 1m11s

The video shows an IRAM being loaded and fired from a single barrel launcher, and was the first video showing the Syrian military using IRAMs.

One thing I was very keen to find out was how these munitions were actually being used in combat.  One report that piqued my interest was from the fighting in Qusayr in June 2013.  Colonel Abdul-Jabbar Mohammed Aqidi, at that time a senior member of the Free Syrian Army's Supreme Military Council, had travelled to Qusayr with reinforcements, and gave a very lengthy interview about his experiences.  One part of the interview caught my eye
The enemy was applying a scorched earth policy by firing Iranian vacuum bombs, which caused whole building to fall down. This was forcing the fighters to retreat to another building.
In my experience, "vacuum" is a prefix frequently used by members of the Syrian opposition to describe all kinds of powerful explosive weapons, and that description reminded me of something else that had emerged in Qusayr.  Josh Wood, a journalist who met opposition fighters who had fought in Qusayr, sent me a gallery of photographs provided to him by the fighters he spoke to, showing a munition they claimed was being used by Hezbollah

He told me that according to the opposition fighters
This weapon was used by Hezbollah forces in Qusayr.  He described them as 107mm rockets fitted to something with a higher payload, with the 107mm propelling everything. He said the max range on these was about 1 km, but most of the time they were simply fired across the street horizontally at extremely close range.  By his description, one of these could do significant damage to a small house.  He said that these rockets really helped Hezbollah shift the tide in parts of that front-line.
At the time there was no more evidence of these munitions being used in Qusayr, and no way to confirm the story of the opposition fighters about how they were used.

This week, a video by the Syrian National Defence Force was posted online, showing fighting in Barzeh, north Damascus, with footage of a single barrel IRAM launcher being used at 1m17s

What's interesting about this is the launch tube is horizontal to the ground, suggesting it's being used for direct fire, not indirect fire, as in Iraq

The launch footage is then followed by footage showing the IRAMs hitting multiple targets.  It appears, as described by the opposition fighters in Qusayr, that these munitions are being used for devastating effect against occupied buildings only hundreds of feet away from the launch site.  It's not hard to imagine how devastating these munitions are, and difficult how (if not impossible) these munitions would be to defend against in an urban combat situation.

Reviewing the National Defence Force's Facebook page, it appears they don't only have access to the single barrel launchers, but also the type of truck mounted launchers Jabhat al-Nusra claimed to have captured

These aren't the only powerful explosive weapons the NDF has been provided with, with videos showing them using the launchers linked to the August 21st attack being posted online recently (albeit using the explosive type of munition), and the use of IRAMs in urban combat would seem to give them a significant advantage over opposition forces.  This goes some way to explain some of the more unusual reports from the opposition of the weapons used against them, and it seems these weapons will continue to be a popular choice for government forces.

You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at