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Syria Analysis: Why Assad's Use of SCUD Missiles is Really Important

Cluster bomb and bomblets in Deir al-Asafir on November 27th. This air raid reportedly killed 11 children and wounded others.

See also Friday's Syria Live Coverage: Russia Gives Up on Assad

The Assad regime is using SCUD missiles. The evidence is overwhelming. However, the use of SCUDs, Cold-War era ballistic missiles, is both more important, and less important, than the media and the world leaders are making it out to be.

Yesterday, we posted evidence that the Syrian military launched a series of SCUD missiles from one of their airports near Damascus against insurgent-held territory near Aleppo.

The US channel CBS reported:

Compare this to a version from the New York Times =--- officials in the US government have restated that Assad is using SCUDs, and their own source describe an incident:

Contacts inside Syria said that one Scud attack took place on Thursday near Maara, a town in a rebel-held area north of Aleppo near the Turkish border. The missile appeared to have missed its target, and the initial accounts were that nobody was hurt. American officials, who have been monitoring Mr. Assad’s military actions via aerial surveillance and other methods, did not corroborate those details but disclosed that the Scud firings, which they first reported last week, had resumed.

“We know they’ve been firing Scuds and continue to fire them,” said a Defense Department official.

Then activist Edward Dark had this report:

Another activist sent this video, which reportedly shows a massive hole in Maara --- away from the town, so there were probably no casualties, matching the New York Times report --- pointing to a SCUD strike:

A military source we consulted says that this kind of damage could be caused by a SCUD, though it is not the only suspect:

A scud-B carries a 985KG warhead. That's about 2000lbs. That's about the size of the hole.

Now, aircraft can also carry a 2000lb bomb...

(Note, we think the NYT was referencing "Mare'" sometimes spelled "Mareh" or "Marea" (map) and not Maara (map), based on their description. The video claims to show Mareh.)

On Friday, there was news of another possible SCUD attack. A micro-blogger posted a video, reportedly leaked by members of the military, showing a new launch. The Turkish government said that at least four SCUD missiles had been fired from Damascus towards Aleppo Province and NATO Secretary General Anders FoghRasmussen confirmed that the regime has used SCUD missiles against opposition=held territory.

This is not the first time Assad has used SCUDs. According to the New York Times and activists who witnessed the launch, several of these missiles were fired in the first two weeks of December.

We have now discussed these findings with a collection of journalists, human rights activists, and military and weapons experts, and their reaction is telling --- militarily, the SCUD missile is just not that important. SCUD missiles fire a warhead that is of comparable size to many bombs that Assad has already dropped using his air force. In fact, the weapon is not as accurate or as powerful as some weapons that have already been used by the regime against Syrian cities and towns. The SCUD's feared reputation comes from its long range, and its potential to carry biological or chemical weapons, but for those within striking distance of Assad's artillery and aircraft, the missiles pose more of a psychological threat than a military one.

To be clear, the victims of any such attack are far more likely to be civilians than any particular target of military significance. Assad's use of these weapons on his own people is a war crime. Outrage is justified.

But one need look no further than two other reports this morning to realize that this outrage is late, as Assad has been using far more deadly weapons for some time. For months, terrified Syrian civilians have uploaded mysterious munitions, or sometimes unidentified hunks of metal, which have been dropped in cities and villages, killing women and children.

Sometimes the fear of the unknown is nearly as bad as the fear of the explosions and fire. Several journalists, including blogger Brown Moses, discovered video of one such unidentified hunk of metal, and journalist CJ Chivers expertly evaluated that it was part of a delivery system --- for cluster bombs. Chivers has published a well-documented use of cluster bombs against Marea, the same town the SCUDs reportedly hit, to highlight that while bombing may be a less sexy headline for the newspapers, it is at least as dangerous, if not far more, than any ballistic missile.

It is the cumulative use of ballistic missiles, Grad rockets, naval mines, and other strange munitions are important. They signal that Assad has used every weapon left in his arsenal (almost), and is running out of resources almost as fast as he is running out of ideas. The use of these weapons proves that the regime is ready to use inefficient weapons against both insurgents and civilians instead of negotiating an escape and ending this bloody war.

Assad is going to go down with his ship. The question is: how many Syrian civilians will he take with him before he finally falls?

Thanks to lopforum and Mr. Green for bringing some of these sources to our attention.

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