Fact Check

Apache Attack

Does a video show a U.S. Apache helicopter firing at three Iraqi insurgents?

Published Aug 10, 2004


Claim:   Video shows U.S. Apache helicopter firing at three Iraqi insurgents.

Status:   Undetermined.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2004]

The one-minute file, filmed from a US Apache helicopter, shows three suspected Iraqi insurgents being shot with 30mm cannon fire. The clip was cut from a longer video obtained by ABC News last week and verified by a senior US army official. The MPEG format file has been posted to several right-wing US forums, where the effectiveness of the Apache's firepower has been celebrated. So far though, in spite of its graphic nature, the film does not seem to have attracted much attention from the anti-war movement.

Origins:   Many readers have asked us about an MPEG video clip (see links below), roughly a minute long, depicting a U.S. Apache helicopter gunship firing at men in a field. The men are Iraqis shown handling a long cylindrical object; the accompanying audio indicates that the helicopter crew believes the object to be a weapon, so they


ask their commanders for permission to engage the enemy, then take out the three men one by one with the helicopter's 30mm cannons, firing over 100 rounds in all.

All we know so far is what ABCNews (presumably the source of the video) reported: the action depicted took place north of Baghdad on 1 December 2003, the soldiers heard on the tape are from the Army's 4th Infantry Division, and the men on the ground were fired upon because the helicopter crew believed them to be armed with rocket-propelled grenade launcher. According to ABC:

A senior Army official who viewed the tape said the pilots had the legal right to kill the men because they were carrying a weapon. He said there were no ground troops in the area and if the Apache pilots had let the three Iraqis go, the men might have gone on to kill American troops.

Keane agreed. "Those weapons were obviously not being pointed at them in particular, but they [the three Iraqis] are using those weapons in their minds for lethal means and they [the Apache pilots] have a right to interfere with that," he said.

Anthony Cordesman, an ABCNEWS defense consultant who also viewed the tape, said the Apache pilots would have had a much clearer picture of the scene than what was recorded on the videotape. He also said they would have had intelligence about the identity of the men in the vehicles. "They're not getting a sort of blurred picture. They have a combination of intelligence and much better imagery than we can see."

As to whether the Apache pilots could have called in ground troops to apprehend the men, Cordesman said: "In this kind of war, wherever you find organized resistance among the insurgents, you have to act immediately. If you wait to send in ground troops almost invariably your enemy is going to be gone."

Army officials acknowledged that the 30 mm cannons used by the Apache gunners were far bigger than what was needed to kill the men, but said it is the smallest weapon the Apaches have.

The video clip described above can be found on a variety of web sites. This following link was still active at last check:

Last updated:   3 September 2007

  Sources Sources:

    Raddatz, Martha.   "Rules of Engagement."

    ABCNEWS.com.   9 January 2004.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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