Shortly after the Syrian government made official their refutation of responsibility for the “Houla massacre,” the ever-diligent BBC unearthed "Satellite image clues” to refute them with a "suspected artillery site."
First, there was the clear report of prolonged shelling, generally thought to mean heavy artillery only the army was thought to possess. But of course the rebels have stolen, bought, or been handed weapons of all kinds by this point in the conflict. While perhaps still lacking in the heavier end, they surely have enough mortars and rounds to pummel targets in a small city for hours, if they had wanted to.
But the BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner presented images suggesting masses of artillery had moved in the area, leaving “tell-tale tracks.” “All the images were taken on the morning of Saturday 26 May, within hours of the massacre ending,” he reported. One presume that’s relevant, and shows things that hadn’t been there on May 24.
They called on military analyst Forbes McKenzie, a former military intelligence officer. He pointed out, in the forested area “H,” what he “believes are the caterpillar tracks left by a mobile artillery battery that fired on the civilian houses.” McKenzie told the BBC: “This would be standard Soviet bloc tactics, firing from woods and then withdrawing.”
It took about one minute looking and five thinking to put that claim to rest. Google Maps public imagery shows the same tracks at a different, earlier time. The imagery was taken on February 22, 2012, three months before the attack.
It is possible these are artillery tracks, where cannons are routinely driven all around the forest here, almost up to each and every one of the trees. Evidence that happened on May 25 in particular, and that these cannon fired on Taldou that day? Zero.
We can’t even say these are cat tracks. They seem rather to be well-worn dirt roads, organically dense like veins. What they seem to be, in fact, areaccess roads in a tree farm, used to plant, tend and harvest each of their little sunlight factories when the time is ready.
If we could be sure heavy weapons were used, from this vicinity near an army outpost (the BBC reports), this location is as good a guess as any. It's right on a main road, but has some tree cover. It is miles from town, so range issues come into play. It would suggest big guns, I suppose, the kind that leave track. But again, these are pre-existing dirt roads in a tree farm.
I'm not sure why Mr. McKenzie failed to catch this.