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Fact or Fiction: Does helicopter video show Taliban execution?

Controversial Helicopter Video, Afghanistan, September 3, 2021
Posted at 3:03 PM, Sep 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-03 18:10:41-04

(AP) — CLAIM: Video of a man dangling from a helicopter in Kandahar, Afghanistan, shows the Taliban performing a public execution.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The video shows a Taliban fighter attempting to hang the Taliban flag on a tall flagpole on Sunday, according to two Kandahar residents who watched it happen. The man hanging from the chopper was alive and could be seen moving in the video.

THE FACTS: Footage of a man suspended from a helicopter in Afghanistan sparked outrage online this week as social media users, politicians and news outlets alike falsely claimed it showed the Taliban killing someone in a public display.

“The Taliban are now hanging people from our left-behind helicopters and flying them around for all to see…” one Twitter user wrote Monday in a post shared nearly 6,000 times. “This is on every single Biden voter.”

Users across Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms echoed the claims, as did politicians including Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas. Cruz later deleted his tweet.

The video does appear to show the Taliban using a Black Hawk helicopter that was previously used by the Afghan military, according to the markings on the aircraft.

However, it shows not a killing, but a Taliban fighter attempting to place a flag on a tall flagpole at the Kandahar governor’s office on Sunday, according to Saadullah Wolesmal and Farid Ahmad Yousuni, two residents of Kandahar who watched the scene as it played out.

Wolesmal said the pole was a remnant of the Afghan government, and Afghanistan’s black, red and green flag was previously affixed to it. A Taliban fighter was suspended from a helicopter and tried to affix the Taliban’s white flag to the pole. He did not succeed, Wolesmal and Yousuni said.

A close analysis of videos from the scene shows that the man dangling from the helicopter was hanging from a harness, not from his neck, and could be seen waving his arms.

Footage from additional angles circulating on social media confirms the man was suspended near a flagpole that matches the poles at the Kandahar governor’s office.