Stand up for the facts!

Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.

More Info

I would like to contribute

A U.S. Chinook helicopter flies over the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 15, 2021. (AP/Gul) A U.S. Chinook helicopter flies over the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 15, 2021. (AP/Gul)

A U.S. Chinook helicopter flies over the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 15, 2021. (AP/Gul)

Bill McCarthy
By Bill McCarthy August 31, 2021

Person hanging from helicopter in Afghanistan appears to be wearing a harness

If Your Time is short

  • The person can be seen in other photographs and videos moving and waving his arms while suspended from a harness. 

  • Several news outlets and fact-checkers reported that the person had been tasked with trying to fix a flag on a public building.

Conservative blog sites, pundits and politicians such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, claimed that the Taliban hanged someone from a helicopter flying over Afghanistan.

The viral rumor was based on a short, blurry video that shows a helicopter flying over the country with a person dangling from a rope beneath it. It’s not clear who filmed the footage and when, but the clip appears to be real. However, that doesn't mean it shows an execution by hanging.

Various other images and videos reviewed by PolitiFact show that the person dangling from the chopper was alive, moving and waving his arms. The person was suspended by a harness that wrapped under his arms, not a noose around the neck.

A viral tweet claimed without evidence that video showed the Taliban hanging someone from a helicopter.

Pentagon spokesperson Eric Pahon said the Defense Department would not comment on the video, given that it came from social media and was presented "without context, background, a time frame for when the video was shot, or even a clear visual of what is occurring."

Reporters for the BBC, Snopes, the Washington Post, Vice and other outlets reached the same conclusion about the harness, determining that the video did not depict an execution.

For its report, the BBC cited unnamed Afghanistan experts with sources in the country. The BBC reported that the flight took place Aug. 30, and that it was an attempt to fix a flag over a public building. The aircraft was likely seized from the Afghanistan Air Force, the BBC said.

Other news organizations around the world relayed the same information. An Afghan news agency similarly told Alt News, an outlet from India, that the person was trying to fix a flag on a building — specifically, the governor’s office in Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city.

Featured Fact-check

Bilal Sarwary, a freelance Afghan journalist, tweeted that the pilot flying the helicopter was a person he knew, who was trained in the U.S. and the United Arab Emirates. Sarwary also said the person in the harness was a Taliban fighter trying to install a flag.

Still, a flurry of social media posts claiming the video showed a public hanging spread widely anyway, racking up hundreds of thousands of total interactions across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, according to CrowdTangle, a social media insights tool. A few viral tweets claimed, again without evidence, that the person hanging was an American interpreter.

The posts were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

Snopes and Vice reported that the 12-second clip was first shared in an Aug. 30 tweet from a page called the Taliban Times, which was later suspended by Twitter. The Taliban Times tweet did not claim that the video was of an execution. 

That claim appeared to take off after a version of the same clip was shared by another account, according to Hoaxy, a social media analysis tool that maps the spread of information on Twitter. The account, which says in its Twitter bio that it belongs to a comedian, wrote in a caption, "Taliban hanging someone from a helicopter in Kandahar." 

That account’s tweet was boosted by several prominent Republican politicians, including Cruz and U.S. Reps. Lauren Boebert and Dan Crenshaw.

"This horrifying image encapsulates Joe Biden's Afghanistan catastrophe: The Taliban hanging a man from an American Blackhawk helicopter," Cruz said in his tweet, which helped the video amass over 2.5 million views in less than 24 hours. "Tragic. Unimaginable."

Elsewhere, blog sites such as RedState and the Western Journal ran headlines that repeated the same claims. 

We rate these claims False.

Our Sources

Various tweets, Aug. 30, 2021, and Aug. 31, 2021

Various Facebook posts, Aug. 30, 2021, and Aug. 31, 2021

Various Instagram posts, Aug. 30, 2021, and Aug. 31, 2021

Various searches on CrowdTangle, Aug. 31, 2021

Various searches on Hoaxy, Aug. 31, 2021

Alt News, "Does the video show Taliban ‘hanging’ a body from a helicopter?" Sept. 1, 2021

Snopes, "Did Taliban Hang a Man From a Black Hawk Helicopter?" Aug. 31, 2021

BBC, "Viral video does not show man hanged from helicopter," Aug. 31, 2021

Vice,"No, the Taliban Did Not Just Hang an Interpreter From a US Helicopter," Aug. 31, 2021

Fact Crescendo, "FACT CHECK: The Man Seen Hanging On A Black Hawk Helicopter Is A Talib Trying To Hoist A Flag," Aug. 31, 2021

Bilal Sarwary on Twitter, Aug. 31, 2021

Glenn Kessler on Twitter, Aug. 31, 2021

Email interview with Eric Pahon, Pentagon spokesperson, Aug. 31, 2021

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Bill McCarthy

Person hanging from helicopter in Afghanistan appears to be wearing a harness

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up