For months now, the Russian government has attempted to paint America’s presence in the Middle East as a jumping off point for covert support of the Islamic State, a terror group the United States has been heavily involved in fighting in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere around the world. Now, after a number of previous attempts have been proven false, the Kremlin has issued a new round of accusations, now claiming that the U.S. and other NATO nations have been providing supplies to ISIS fighters via mysterious helicopter flights.
We still expecting from our American colleagues an answer to the repeatedly raised questions, questions that arose on the basis of public statements made by the leaders of some Afghan provinces, that unidentified helicopters, most likely helicopters to which NATO in one way or another is related, fly to the areas where the insurgents are based, and no one has been able to explain the reasons for these flights yet,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, on Tuesday.
“In general they [the United States] try to avoid answers to these legitimate questions.” He added.
These accusations appear to be based on a statement made by Mohammad Zahir Wahdat, the governor of Afghanistan’s northern Sar-e Pol province last May. Wahdat reported that his security forces spotted unmarked military helicopters touching down briefly in an area that was known to be a militant stronghold. He went on to explain that, because the event occurred at night, his troops were unable to take any pictures or videos of the incident, but they did note that the helicopters flew north when they took off once again.
According to the report we have received from the 2nd Battalion of the Afghan National Army, which fights on the first line of the battle in Sar-e-Pul, two military helicopters landed in a stronghold of the enemy at 8pm last Thursday,” Sar-e-Pul governor Mohammad Zahir Wahdat told local outlet TOLOnews.
“The helicopters took off after 10 minutes and went towards Sar-e-Pul-Shibirghan Highway, but they could not be filmed due to the darkness of the night,” he added.
That, apparently, was enough to spur a Russian misinformation campaign that began that same month, in which the Kremlin relayed the same story with a few notable, and unsubstantiated additions.
Sar-e Pol Governor Mohammad Zahir Wahdat confirmed on the record information about the night landing of two helicopters without identification marks in extremist-controlled territory in the Sayyad District. They went to the government air force base in Mazar-e-Sharif that also accommodates the NATO military base Camp Marmal.” A Kremlin statement from later that month read.
That mention of “the government air force base in Mazar-e-Sharif” was not present in the original statement, but was included in the Kremlin’s analysis of the situation as though it was an undisputed fact. Now, nine months later, the Kremlin has brought this line of questioning back to the forefront, and using their own previous statements as evidence of a longstanding issue with the United States.
This is far from the first time the Russian government has attempted to sway public opinion about the American military efforts using fictional accounts of events. In November, Russia released what they called “irrefutable evidence” of American support for ISIS in Syria that turned out to be footage from an iPhone video game. In December, they released a fictional report of an intercept between an American F-22 and a Russian Su-35, only days before a real one actually occurred that went quite differently than Russia’s imaginary event. The Kremlin has also claimed on multiple occasions that U.S. backed forces were protecting Islamic State fighters when engaging Pro-Assad troops who cross over the deconfliction line and attack established SDF outposts.
Ultimately, this latest round of accusations could even be true without suggesting the United States offered support to the terrorist organization. A cadre of helicopters landing in enemy controlled territory and then departing ten minutes later is hardly grounds to suggest collusion – but then, the Kremlin’s methodology regarding U.S. foreign policy has long involved throwing conspiracy spaghetti at the wall and seeing what will stick.
Image courtesy of the Kremlin