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Guncotton in Syria


11 November 2013

Guncotton used to launch homemade artillery.

War has shattered Syria.  Heavily armed government forces will stop at nothing to destroy opposition to retain power.  The government uses airstrikes, artillery barrages, and tanks against its own people.

Assad’s army is literally scorching the earth under the feet of women and children.  If Assad’s Air Force has a single rule of engagement, the rule seems to be never to waste a bomb.  This abject cruelty has led to a brutal war that eclipses Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

While the Syrian government uses heavy weapons, many opposition fighters scramble for ammunition and to invent homemade cannons, large catapults, and giant slingshots that launch grapefruit-sized grenades.

image003Rebel lights guncotton with cigarette.

In 1845, German chemist Christian Schoenbein used cotton, water, nitric and sulfuric acids, and invented guncotton.  Schoenbein’s guncotten was meant to be a military propellant yet it was so sensitive that it was prone to kill users.

Soon, guncotton was forgotten as a cannon propellant, in part for the danger.  Today, Syrian rebels have gone back to basics, including making guncotton and their own artillery pieces and ammunition.

Earlier this year, the US government warned that al Qaeda may use clothing dipped in a liquid explosive and then dried, which is virtually undetectable by current means.  Officials did not mention the explosive.

Was it guncotton?  After all, the stuffing of a fluffy winter jacket could be replaced with guncotton, as could all the clothes in a carryon bag.  It might not be long before cotton balls and cotton diapers are considered as threatening as baby formula.  The US government uses “could” to justify global eavesdropping and other power grabs.

This video was made by a courageous 21-year-old Syrian war correspondent named Omran Morad:


Video: Omran Morad
Writing: Michael Yon
Translation to Arabic: Suhaib Ghoutani

(Note: I viewed the entire video sequence and asked an editor to cut dead space.  The small transitions are apparent.  The fuse on the closest cannon failed to light on the first try.  A transition skips the relighting of the fuse.)

Michael Yon

Michael Yon is America's most experienced combat correspondent. He has traveled or worked in 82 countries, including various wars and conflicts.

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