Social Media Posts Draw Unsupported Conclusion on Afghan Helicopter Video

By Saranac Hale Spencer

Posted on September 2, 2021

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Quick Take

Afghan journalists report that a video of a person suspended from a helicopter shows an operation in which the person was trying to change a flag. But critics of President Joe Biden have used the footage to claim the Taliban used U.S. equipment for a “hanging.” One person who shared the claim, Sen. Ted Cruz, later deleted his tweet, saying it “may be inaccurate.”


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In the wake of the U.S. military withdrawal, conservative commentators and politicians shared a video on social media that showed a person dangling from a helicopter in Afghanistan and — although the circumstances shown in the video were unclear — they claimed that it showed a “hanging” conducted by the Taliban.

For example, Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas retweeted a copy of the video posted by someone who describes himself as a comedian and had claimed that it showed the “Taliban hanging someone from a helicopter in Kandahar.”

Liz Wheeler, a conservative commentator and former host on One America News Network, retweeted another copy of the video and added this message: “If this is what it looks like… the Taliban hanging somebody from an American Blackhawk… I could vomit. Joe Biden is responsible.”

Another commentator, Carmine Sabia, tweeted the video with this claim: “This is the Taliban, that the Biden administration called ‘pragmatic’ and ‘businesslike’ Pragmatically and businesslike hanging an American interpreter from an American Blackhawk helicopter and if the GOP has any balls this would be every campaign ad in 2022.”

Donald Trump Jr. changed the banner at the top of his Twitter page to an image of President Joe Biden’s campaign logo with a silhouette of a helicopter with a dangling body.

Sen. Ted Cruz, also of Texas, retweeted the same video as Crenshaw, although Cruz later acknowledged that the tweet “may be inaccurate” and deleted his original message.

But the unsupported claim was shared across social media platforms and received tens of thousands of interactions on Facebook.

As we said, the situation shown in the video is unclear, but a closer look from another vantage point appears to show a person in a harness who is waving at those below rather than someone being hanged.

The Indian fact-checking website Alt News posted a thorough examination of the incident, including another video of the helicopter posted by an Afghan news service, which told Alt News, “We have a team there, they have confirmed that the person was controlled and hanging from the helicopter to fix the flag at the governor’s building in Kandahar.”

Another journalist from Afghanistan, Bilal Sarwary, also said that the person suspended from the helicopter was trying to change a flag. He tweeted: “Afghan pilot flying this is someone I have known over the years. He was trained in the US and [United Arab Emirates], he confirmed to me that he flew the Blackhawk helicopter. Taliban fighter seen here was trying to install Taliban flag from air but it didn’t work in the end.”

It’s also worth noting that the widely shared video appears to have been originally posted on Twitter by an account that described itself as the “official account of Islamic Emirate Afghanistan,” which is the Taliban. The message that accompanied the video said nothing about a hanging or execution. Rather, it said, “Our Air Force! At this time, the Islamic Emirate’s air force helicopters are flying over Kandahar city and patrolling the city.”

That account has since been suspended. We asked Twitter why, and we have not received a response.

We also asked the Department of Defense for comment on the video or credible reports of hangings by the Taliban, but did not hear back. We will update this story if we do.

So, we can’t say for sure what is happening in the video, but an Afghan news service and another journalist both reported that it showed an attempt to fix or install a flag. We could find no credible reports of a hanging and, as we said, from some vantage points it appears the person suspended from the helicopter is in a harness, waving.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

Sources

Crenshaw, Dan (@DanCrenshawTX). “In what f***ing world was it a good idea to just hand over a country to these people.” Twitter. 30 Aug 2021.

McDonald, Jessica, D’Angelo Gore and Eugene Kiely. “Video Wrong About Fauci, COVID-19.” FactCheck.org. 3 Feb 2021.

Wheeler, Liz (@Liz_Wheeler). “If this is what it looks like… the Taliban hanging somebody from an American Blackhawk… I could vomit. Joe Biden is responsible.” Twitter. 30 Aug 2021.

Sabia, Carmine (@CarmineSabia). “This is the Taliban, that the Biden administration called ‘pragmatic’ and ‘businesslike’ Pragmatically and businesslike hanging an American interpreter from an American Blackhawk helicopter and if the GOP has any balls this would be every campaign ad in 2022.” Twitter. 30 Aug 2021.

Cruz, Ted (@tedcruz). “It turns out the post I shared w/ a video of Taliban ‘hanging a man’ from a helicopter may be inaccurate. So I deleted the tweet. What remains accurate is: – The Taliban are brutal terrorists. – We left them millions in US military equipment, including Black Hawk helicopters.” Twitter. 31 Aug 2021.

Zubair, Mohammed. “Does the video show Taliban ‘hanging’ a body from a helicopter?” Altnews.in. Updated 1 Sep 2021.

Aśvaka – آسواکا News Agency (@AsvakaNews). “Black Hawk over the #Kandahar governor office. #Kandahar #Afghanistan.” Twitter. 30 Aug 2021.

Sarwary, Bilal (@bsarwary). “Afghan pilot flying this is someone I have known over the years. He was trained in the US and UAE, he confirmed to me that he flew the Blackhawk helicopter. Taliban fighter seen here was trying to install Taliban flag from air but it didn’t work in the end.” Twitter. 31 Aug 2021.

Talib Times (@TalibTimes). “Our Air Force! At this time, the Islamic Emirate’s air force helicopters are flying over Kandahar city and patrolling the city.” Twitter. 30 Aug 2021.

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