Rus­sia's 'ir­refutable ev­i­dence' of US help for Isis ap­pears to be video game still

The Guardian Australia - - World News - Shaun Walker in Moscow

Rus­sia’s de­fence min­istry has tried to pass off what ap­pear to be stills from a mo­bile phone mil­i­tary sim­u­la­tion game as “ir­refutable ev­i­dence” of co­op­er­a­tion be­tween US forces and Is­lamic State mil­i­tants in Syria.

The pho­to­graphs were ap­pended to so­cial me­dia posts from the min­istry’s of­fi­cial ac­counts posted on Tues­day morn­ing, which ac­cused the Amer­i­cans of pro­vid­ing air cover for an Isis con­voy with the aim of us­ing Isis fight­ers to fur­ther US in­ter­ests.

The min­istry said Rus­sian air power had sup­ported Syr­ian troops in free­ing the town of Abu Ka­mal from Isis, and that “facts of di­rect co­op­er­a­tion and sup­port pro­vided by the US-led coali­tion to the ISIS ter­ror­ists” came to light dur­ing the op­er­a­tion.

Rus­sia’s de­fence min­istry said not only did the Amer­i­cans refuse to carry out a joint op­er­a­tion to strike Isis fight­ers leav­ing Abu Ka­mal but also al­lowed them to re­group on coali­tion-con­trolled ter­ri­tory. Rus­sia said the Amer­i­cans ac­tively in­ter­fered with Rus­sian airstrikes, to pro­vide cover for the Isis fight­ers.

“The US are ac­tu­ally cov­er­ing the ISIS com­bat units to re­cover their com­bat ca­pa­bil­i­ties, re­de­ploy, and use them to pro­mote the Amer­i­can in­ter­ests in the Mid­dle East,” said the min­istry.

The al­le­ga­tions are ex­tremely grave, but may be harder to take se­ri­ously given the “ir­refutable proof” of­fered in the form of pho­to­graphic ac­com­pa­ni­ment. None of the five pho­to­graphs at­tached to the post were what the Rus­sians claimed them to be, said on­line sleuths, with one pho­to­graph ap­par­ently a screen­shot from the promo for a mo­bile phone game called AC-130 Gun­ship Sim­u­la­tor: Spe­cial Ops Squadron.

Con­flict In­tel­li­gence Team, a group of Rus­sian on­line in­ves­ti­ga­tors who factcheck claims by the Rus­sian mil­i­tary, said that the other four of the five pho­to­graphs ap­pear to be taken from 2016 footage re­leased by Iraq’s min­istry of de­fence, de­pict­ing the Iraqi air force bomb­ing Isis tar­gets near Fal­luja.

Soon af­ter peo­ple noted the du­bi­ous ori­gin of the pho­to­graphs, the de­fence min­istry deleted its tweets, and re­moved the pho­to­graphs from the cor­re­spond­ing Face­book posts. How­ever, a cached ver­sion of the post is avail­able that shows the post with the pho­to­graphs.

The min­istry said it would in­ves­ti­gate the in­ci­dent, which it blamed on a civil­ian em­ployee. “How­ever, the U.S. com­mand’s re­fusal to carry out strikes on the con­voys of ISIL ter­ror­ists re­treat­ing from Albu Ka­mal on Novem­ber 9 is an ob­jec­tive fact re­flected in the tran­scripts of the talks and there­fore, fully known to the U.S. side,” In­ter­fax news agency quoted the min­istry as say­ing.

Rus­sia, which en­tered the con­flict in late 2015 on the side of Bashar al-As­sad’s gov­ern­ment, has long ac­cused the west of back­ing ex­trem­ist groups in Syria. In turn, west­ern coun­tries have ac­cused Rus­sian jets of in­dis­crim­i­nate bomb­ing tac­tics in­clud­ing the de­lib­er­ate tar­get­ing of hos­pi­tals. Moscow has never ad­mit­ted any civil­ian ca­su­al­ties of its air raids.

It is not the first time that the Rus­sian de­fence min­istry has tried to pass off footage of other events as its own. A scene in a doc­u­men­tary about Putin made by the US film-maker Oliver Stone showed Putin play­ing the di­rec­tor video footage on a tele­phone of what he said were Rus­sian forces on op­er­a­tions in Syria. The footage ap­peared to be an ex­act match for old footage of US forces in Afghanistan.

Af­ter in­ter­net users pointed out the dis­crep­ancy, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the footage had been given to Putin by Sergei Shoigu, Rus­sia’s min­is­ter of de­fence.

The de­fence min­istry told Rus­sian news agen­cies on Tues­day evening it was “car­ry­ing out checks on a civil­ian em­ployee who mis­tak­enly added pho­to­graphs to the min­istry’s state­ment.”

A still ap­par­ently from the com­puter game AC-130 Gun­ship Sim­u­la­tor: Spe­cial Ops Squadron claimed by the Rus­sian de­fence min­istry as ‘ir­refutable ev­i­dence’ of co­op­er­a­tion be­tween US forces and Is­lamic State mil­i­tants in Syria. Pho­to­graph: Rus­sian De­fence Min­istry

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