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Scuds!

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Looks as if the Syrian military has decided to launch some Scud missiles at rebel positions:

Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have fired Scud missiles at rebel fighters in recent days, Obama administration officials said on Wednesday.

The move represents a significant escalation in the fighting, which has already killed more than 40,000 civilians in a nearly two-year-old conflict that has threatened to destabilize the Middle East.

One American official, who asked not to be identified because he was discussing classified information, said that missiles had been fired from the Damascus area at targets in northern Syria.

“The total is number is probably north of six now,” said another American official, and that the targets were in areas controlled by the Free Syrian Army, the main armed insurgent group.

It is not clear how many casualties resulted from the attacks by the Scuds — a class of Soviet-era designed missiles made famous by Saddam Hussein of Iraq during the first Gulf War. But it appeared to be the first that the Assad government had fired the missiles at targets inside Syria.

My Wikipedified analysis of the situation is thus: The best missiles the Syrian government has on hand have a CEP (circular error probability) of 50m (expect 50% of warheads to fall within CEP), and can carry up to 985kg. That’s pretty damn scary if it lands on your block, but it’s not terribly impressive compared to what an artillery battery or an Su-24 can deliver. Of course, ballistic missiles can strike targets at greater distance than artillery and with less risk than bombers, but this also means that they’re difficult to use in tactical or operational support; you can fire them at enemy rear areas or at civilians, but they’re not going to break up an enemy column bearing down on your position, or be more useful than artillery in support of an assault. Moreover, they’re a very expensive way of delivering 985kg of ordnance.

Looks like desperation to me, although it probably explains why we’ve been hearing so many warnings about Syrian CW use.

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