As US soldiers struggle to contain a burgeoning ISIS-linked insurgency along the country’s eastern border, an anonymously released video depicting a US soldier firing his weapon into what appears to be a civilian vehicle could alienate locals at a time when the US war effort desperately needs their cooperation.
The footage, which was quickly pulled down after being uploaded to YouTube, has sparked an investigation into the incident and what exactly happened in the video.
The 3-minute, 9-second video doesn’t say where it was recorded, but the YouTube caption suggested it was shot in 2017, according to Politico, which recorded the video before it was pulled. For the past year, US troops have been battling ISIS in Nangarhar Province, the group’s main Afghan stronghold, where teams of special operations advisers are fighting alongside elite Afghan troops. But as ISIS' s grip on its former territories in Iraq and Syria has been broken, the insurgency in Afghanistan has strengthened.
An anonymous user recently uploaded the video to YouTube under the title “Happy Few Ordnance Symphony,” then quickly removed it. The scene with the truck shooting begins 20 seconds in.
In the scene, which lasts just a few seconds, an armored military vehicle, possibly an M-ATV equipped for special operations troops, passes a slow-moving civilian vehicle known in Afghanistan as a "jingle truck."
Footage apparently recorded on a helmet camera shows a military-style shotgun being pointed at the truck cabin, and the window on the driver’s side being shattered as it if had been shot. The video is set to music and offers no audial cues for the clip.
The soldiers in the video are wearing uniforms typical of US special operations forces like the Green Berets, SEALs, Rangers and Marine Raiders. According to Politico, troops serving overseas often create these montages, often set to music, to amuse themselves.
Special operations veterans with experience in eastern Afghanistan who reviewed the video agreed those depicted looked like special operations forces. They agreed that shooting a shotgun into the driver’s door of the passing truck raised potential red flags.
According to RT, one expert said the video could be of "an operator not doing the right thing and firing a non-lethal round just to be a dick."
Per RT, it was not possible to tell which unit the shooter was from, or anything else about why the event took place. In particular, they could not tell from the footage whether the shotgun shell was a “lethal” round or a less dangerous “non-lethal” one, such as one designed for breaching doors or windows.
If the special operations team was responding to an attack or threat from near the truck, they might have been closing in on the vehicle from various directions in a larger movement not depicted in the brief video. More fire might have been exchanged than the video showed.
“You do not know if there were ground forces moving on the flanks,” one veteran told Politico. “It is hard for me to question the man on the ground.”
Still, Central Command expressed deep dismay about what the video appears to depict with directly addressing the shooting.
"I have reviewed the video and I am disappointed and also concerned that the American people, our Coalition partners, the Afghan government, and the Afghan people will believe that American service members are callous and indifferent to the horrors of war or the suffering of innocent people trapped in conflict," Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of Central Command added in a statement Wednesday. "I can assure you that this video does not represent the professionalism or humanity of the men and women of US Central Command. We reject the unprofessional and callous message this video conveys."
Central Command - known as CENTCOM - was also less than pleased…
"The amateur video posted on a public website gives us serious concern," the U.S. Central Command said in a statement. "The video in question is not official, not authorized and does not represent the professionalism of the service members of U.S. Central Command.
"We are conducting an investigation into this video, and will take appropriate actions as a result of this investigation," it added.
This isn’t the only scandal involving US special operations forces abroad. Last year, two Navy SEALs were investigated for the murder of a green beret during a special forces mission in Mali. The victim allegedly discovered a money laundering and embezzlement scheme being run by the men, and threatened to alert authorities.