Burning Pilot Video: Fake but Despicable

The U.S. military is taking the odd stance that a video of an Apache helicopter pilot being burned and dragged released yesterday is both a fake and despicable, demonstrating the terrorists’ “immoral disregard for human dignity and life.”

AP’s Robert Reid:

Gunmen shouting “God is Great!” dragged the burning body of what they said was a U.S. pilot in a horrific video posted Wednesday on the Web by a new al-Qaida-affiliated group that claimed it shot down an Apache helicopter last weekend.


[T]he U.S. military expressed outrage over the release of “such a despicable video for public exposure” but said it had serious doubts that the footage was authentic.

The AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopter was downed near Youssifiyah about 12 miles southwest of Baghdad on Saturday, killing the two pilots. A U.S. statement said troops had recovered “all available remains” although “reports of a Web site video suggest that terrorists removed part of a body from the crash site.”

The flaming wreckage of a helicopter could be seen clearly in the video, including outlines of the aircraft’s blades and jagged pieces of wreckage strewn over a field. The camera panned over bloodstained debris, then showed several men dragging the burning body of a man across a field as they shouted “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is Great!” Voices could be heard in the background shouting “come, come, help me carry it.” The body’s face was not visible, but the camera zoomed in on what appeared to be his waistline, which showed a scrap of underwear with the brand name “Hanes.” It appeared the man was wearing tattered digital camouflage fatigues, which are worn by U.S. troops in Iraq. The time stamp on the video which shows the minutes and seconds do not run sequentially, and the scenes appear disjointed. The posting also included bombing scenes filmed elsewhere, indicating the material had been edited as a propaganda package.


The video was e-mailed to reporters and posted on an Islamist Web site by the Mujahedeen Shura Council, purportedly a new umbrella organization that includes al-Qaida in Iraq and smaller insurgent groups. Formation of the group, announced Jan. 21, was seen as a bid to consolidate various organizations that had been operating independently since the insurgency erupted in 2003. It was also seen as an effort by insurgents to lower the profile of al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian, whose mass attacks against Shiite civilians have tarnished the image of the insurgents among many Iraqis.

The spokesman, LTC Jonathan Withington, says that the bodies of CPT Timothy J. Moshier,and CW3 Michael L. Hartwick were recovered intact. But if this was staged, they certainly went to a lot of trouble to get authentic details like the virtually new uniforms and U.S. style underwear.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. legion says:

    Well, US-style clothes (or at least visually-similar knockoffs) are not difficult to find in many parts of the middle east, it is a very strange situation… obviously at least one side is way off base & is putting a lot of effort into something that doesn’t really merit the work – I could see an inventive insurgent or AQ group pulling something like this as a PR coup, but I could also see someone on the US side have the knee-jerk reaction of denying such a thing.

    I’m also interested in the very low (so far) media interest in this affair – I’ve barely seen anything in the mainstream about this.

  2. Stevely says:

    The enemy is media-savvy and the events in Somalia regarding the downed Black Hawk helicopter are very prominent in their view of us and what levers they need to push to get the desired reactions out of the US population and political leaders. This was AQ psyops – they want to recreate the images of Black Hawk Down and hopefully recreate the effects that followed then.

  3. Ralph says:

    It is completely a fake! Army pilots don’t wear fatigues when flying. Terrorist aren’t the brightest people out there.