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Howard Altman: Tampa company analyzed strike on Syrian facilities

After President Donald Trump announced the U.S., France and England had carried out attacks on three Syrian chemical weapons centers, a Tampa company began its own analysis of the bomb damage.

The analysis, by geospatial intelligence firm Radiant Solutions, is part of the Maxar News Bureau’s imagery program, said Radiant spokesman Andre Kearns.

Companies under the Maxar Technologies umbrella capture and analyze satellite images of large, globally significant events and make them available to the public, Kearns said. The idea is to offer "a visual truth and analysis to unfolding events to drive social good and global transparency," he said.

Radiant Solutions has contracts with both U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command, each headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, but the Maxar program has no connection to the military, Kearns said.

The conclusion reached by Mark Sanford, a former Air Force imagery analyst who works for Radiant Solutions, aligns with what Pentagon officials said during news briefings following the strike.

All three centers targeted were destroyed, said Sanford, who conducted battle damage analysis for the Air Force during the first Persian Gulf War.

U.S. officials say the three nations fired off 105 weapons — a combination of Tomahawk missiles; British and French weapons; and a new, stealthy U.S. aircraft-launched weapon called the Joint Air Surface Standoff Munition, or JASSM.

U.S. officials say all the weapons hit their targets and that Syrian air defenses responded only after the attack. The Russians deny that their clients, the Syrians, were responsible for the April 7 chemical weapons attack in Douma that precipitated the strikes.

The Russians also say Syrian air defenses shot down 71 of the weapons, adding that they were aimed at targets beyond the three identified by the Pentagon.

While Sanford is unable to determine the types or quantities of munitions used, he did walk me through what he found and didn’t find by comparing before and after images of the attack sites.

There were no indications, for example, that the Syrians mounted a response to any chemical leak — consistent with the U.S. statement that the allies managed to avoid one.

Sanford used images captured by the WorldView-3 satellite, operated by Maxar’s DigitalGlobe company, to analyze the strike results. Here is a summary of the analysis:

Target 1: Barzah Research and Development Center, located in the greater Damascus area.

U.S. officials say it was hit with 76 missiles; 57 Tomahawks, and 19 JASSMs.

A complex of three office buildings, the center was "95 percent destroyed down to the rubble level," Sanford said, with activity indicating that a cleanup effort was already underway by the time the images were captured the morning after the attack.

"There are craters in several areas in the buildings’ footprint," he told me. "Lots of piles of rubble and holes in the ground."

Target 2: the Him Shinshar chemical weapons storage center, just west of Homs.

U.S. officials say it was hit with 22 weapons, including nine Tomahawks, eight Storm Shadow missiles, three naval cruise missiles, and two SCALP land attack cruise missiles.

A large, earthen-berm site, it contained a couple of different structures, including two large, two-story storage buildings side-by-side in the center of the site, Sanford said, and a third building about 50 meters away.

There were "multiple indications of attack" at all three buildings, he said. All were destroyed, with visible craters and remnants of twisted metal left behind.

Target 3: the Him Shinshar chemical weapons bunker facility was hit by seven SCALP missiles, U.S. officials said.

Sanford said the facility, in an open field with few surrounding buildings, consisted of one linear earthen bunker with a couple of small associated support buildings.

"The bunker appeared to be almost completely destroyed," Sanford said, "with one large crater, right central in the middle of what used to be the bunker."

The support buildings, he said, did not show much damage and were still in tact.

The imagery, Sanford added, showed the attacks were pinpoint. Surrounding areas, he said, were untouched.

Sanford’s analysis coincidently came just ahead of the upcoming GEOINT 2018 Symposium, taking place April 22-25 at the Tampa Convention Center.

Hosted and produced by the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, a non-profit, non-lobbying educational organization, the annual symposium is the nation’s largest gathering of industry, academia, and government representatives, including people from Centcom and SOCom at MacDill as well as the CIA and other intelligence organizations.

More than 4,000 attendees from all over the world are expected, according to organizers.

•••

The Pentagon announced no new casualties in ongoing operations last week.

There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 49 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the follow-up, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan; 54 troop deaths and two civilian deaths in support of Operation Inherent Resolve; one troop death in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning, the fight against Islamic State in Libya; one death classified as other contingency operations in the global war on terrorism; and four deaths in ongoing operations in Africa where, if they have a title, officials will not divulge it.

Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman

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