Russian military uses videogame screen to 'prove' the US is working with ISIS

Russia's Ministry of Defense recently shared images on social media which it claimed were proof that US forces are working in conjunction with Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq to promote American interests in the Middle East. Setting aside the fact that the statement is patently ridiculous on its face, the real botch came to light when it was discovered that the "proof" included a still from a trailer for a mobile game called AC-130 Gunship Simulator

The MoD deleted the tweets and Facebook post in question, but these things never really go away, do they? The archived Facebook post claims that the Syrian Army, backed by the Russian Air Force, "liberated" the city of Abu Kamal last week. During the operation, the Russian military issued a request to US-led coalition forces that they take part in a combined operation to eliminate an ISIS convoy withdrawing toward Iraq. 

"The American side clearly refused to carry out strikes on terrorists because 'militants surrendered voluntarily' and their actions were assessed in accordance with the provisions of the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War," the MoD wrote. "However, the American side has failed to answer the question asked by the Russian side: why the ISIS terrorists left Syria on combat vehicles with heavy armament were regrouping in the coalition-controlled territories and preparing for new attacks against the SAA near Abu Kamal." 

"Moreover, in order to allow the terrorists to hide from Russian and Syrian strikes, the coalition’s aircraft tried to interfere with the Russian Aerospace Forces’ actions in the area. The US-led Coalition Air Force entered the 15-km zone around Abu Kamal to interrupt operation of the Russian aircraft." 

But the Conflict Intelligence Team, described by The Guardian as "Russian online investigators who fact-check claims by the Russian military," refuted the Ministry's claims in a Facebook message of its own

"On Tuesday, the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) accused the US of providing air cover to an IS convoy which allegedly left the Syrian town of Al-Bukamal on November 9. As proof, the MoD's social media account posted what they claimed were Russian drone photos of the convoy heading towards the Syrian-Iraqi border," the group said. 

"Twitter users quickly found out that 4 out of 5 'drone photos' were actually taken from videos released by the Iraqi Ministry of Defence in June 2016, showing the Iraqi Air Force bombing IS near Fallujah. Another photo was taken from a mobile game AC-130 Gunship Simulator: Special Ops Squadron." 

It's awkward and embarrassing (and thoroughly frightening, although that part of it falls a bit outside our purview) but to be fair to Russia, this isn't the first time that videogame footage has been mistaken for the real deal. In 2016, media outlets in Iran claimed that video from the Medal of Honor reboot was actually footage of Hezbollah snipers killing Islamic State fighters, and in 2012 an ITV documentary in the UK about the connection between former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and the IRA ran a clip of a British Army helicopter shootdown that turned out to be a bit of Arma 2

Abu Kamal, by the way, has since been retaken by Islamic State.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.