Fact check: US C-17 plane swarmed by Afghans in video was real, not inflatable in ‘false flag’ operation – USA TODAY

873d3ce6 65dd 4ec7 9cfa 0a282abbe8ca 8022e8e0 e2c6 4fc3 a62d 90b2111db3d4 thumbnail


The claim: U.S. Air Force C-17 plane leaving Kabul was an ‘inflatable decoy plane’

The high-profile evacuations out of Afghanistan, which led to the relocation of more than 7,000 people within a few days, have prompted a particularly unique conspiracy theory online.

Evacuations started on Aug. 14, a day before Taliban fighters seized Kabul, according to Army Maj. Gen. William Taylor. 

Videos of a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane have since gone viral, showing Afghans clinging to the side of the aircraft as it taxied down the runway to take off from Kabul.

Fact check: Image claiming to show refugees leaving Afghanistan is from 2018

A screenshot of the 15-second video was shared on Facebook on Aug. 17 along with another photo of a C-17 aircraft. The screenshot labels the other photo as an “actual aircraft” and the Kabul C-17 an “inflatable decoy plane.”

In an accompanying caption, the user who posted the photo wrote: “Watch the video a few times and judge for yourself. Think about how loud and powerful those nonexistent engines are to be standing next to them.”

Various versions of this photo had been shared about 1,000 times within a week.

U.S. Air Force officials confirmed to USA TODAY the C-17 was real, and it was bringing equipment to aid in the evacuations.

USA TODAY reached out to the social media users who posted the image for comment.

C-17 aircraft leaving Kabul was real

An Aug. 19 version of the image has more details indicating why some users believe the aircraft was an inflatable decoy. 

Red circles have been drawn around the aircraft’s doors, seals and vents  with question marks indicating those same doors aren’t seen in the screenshot below, implying the aircraft from the screenshot is fake.

But the differences are due to the angle and quality of the video at the time of the screenshot. Six seconds into this video, it’s true the doors can’t be seen in great detail. 

But about two seconds later, when the camera moves to show people clinging to the side of the plane, the doors and seals of the aircraft come into focus.

More notably, this theory is exposed as nonsense by other videos that show the aircraft in the air with people falling from it. The Air Force said it is investigating human remains found in the plane’s wheel well after it landed in Qatar.

Fact check: No evidence Taliban sentenced 229 Christian missionaries to death

Rose Riley, the Air Force’s deputy chief of media operations, told USA TODAY in an email the aircraft in the video is a C-17 Globemaster III from the 62nd Airlift Wing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington.

Fact check: Viral video shows Syrian rebels in 2015, not Taliban in Kabul

Some posts make the claim that the plane is a prop and compare it to footage of U.S soldiers tipping over inflatable tanks and trucks that were designed to deceive the Germans during World War II.

Military used inflatable vehicles to deceive German troops in WWII

The videos shared on Instagram of soldiers tipping over military vehicles are from a 2018 documentary about the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, known as the Ghost Army.

USA TODAY reached out to the user for comment.

The Ghost Army was the first mobile, multimedia and tactical deception unit in U.S. Army history, according to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

Armed with inflatable tanks and other vehicles, fake radio traffic and sound effects, the top secret, unit of 1,100 men moved across Europe to create the illusion of a bigger, stronger military presence.

After arriving in England in May 1944, shortly before D-Day, the unit carried out 22 large-scale deceptions across Europe, according to the museum. During their operations, the soldiers made it look like an army several times its size, of around 30,000 men, was in the area.

Fact check: Meme claiming to compare Afghan women in 1960 and 2021 uses altered photo

Pictures of some of the inflatable props shared by Task and Purpose, a military news website, show the inflatable vehicles were almost indistinguishable from real ones when viewed together from afar.

After the war, the soldiers were sworn to secrecy and the records of the missions were classified until the mid-1990s, the museum wrote as part of its special exhibit.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that a C-17 plane seen in a video leaving Kabul was an inflatable decoy plane. Air Force officials confirmed to USA TODAY the plane was real. The U.S. military used inflatable tanks among other props to deceive German troops during World War II.

Our fact-check sources:

Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.

Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.