The campaign to blame Iran for downed U.S. chopper

Two media outlets air the baseless claim that Iran helped shoot down the SEALs' helicopter over the weekend

Topics: Afghanistan, War Room, Iran,

The campaign to blame Iran for downed U.S. chopperIn front of a portrait of the Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, gestures, in a gathering of recovered drug addicts for a ceremony commemorating International Day Against Drug Abuse, at the Azadi (Freedom) sport complex, in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 26, 2011. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)(Credit: Vahid Salemi)

Twice in the past few days important media outlets have aired the claim — for which there is apparently no evidence — that Iran was behind the downing of a U.S. helicopter in Afghanistan over the weekend which killed 38.

First, this item appeared on Sunday in Mike Allen’s daily Playbook email newsletter:

EMAIL DU JOUR: “My immediate reaction is which foreign intelligence agency is training and equipping the Taliban to do this. I suspect Iran.”

I asked Allen about this Sunday, and he emailed that the next day’s would have “an alternative view.” This appeared in Monday’s edition:

EMAIL DU JOUR, responding to yesterday’s EDJ, on the insurgents’ strike on the SEALs: “Wow someone is trying to blame Iran! Iran had nothing to do with this. It happened in Wardak. Like 99% of fighters and weapons there likely all came from Pakistan. I know everyone wants to hate on Iran. But the enemy in Afghanistan is Pakistan, not Iran.”

The alternative view was helpful. But it’s still not clear why it’s worthwhile (or responsible) to air this sort of inflammatory, and baseless, claim in the first place.

We heard the claim again on CNN Monday night, this time from the paperback thriller author Brad Thor, who was for some reason invited on as a foreign affairs analyst. He told host John King:

I’d like to add that there’s word out that what took down this helicopter might be what’s known as an IRAM, an improvised rocket assisted mortar. We first saw these with Shiite extremists in Iraq with Iranian fingerprints all over them and that’s why I’m so concerned.

They call these things in the military flying IEDs and we don’t have confirmation of what brought the helicopter down, but that and the fact that the Iranians have so penetrated not only the Afghan government, but a lot of our indigenous support and our forward operating bases and around the country of Afghanistan — you know, it makes me wonder, the Taliban, they’re good, but, man, I don’t think they’re this good, John.

I really think this thing is the fingerprints of Iranian cooperation on it.

There are a few problems here. First, the idea that an IRAM rocket was used in this attack was knocked down by a NATO spokesman a few days ago. In addition, even if this type of rocket was used, Thor doesn’t cite any actual evidence that it was supplied by Iran. As for whether the Taliban are not “this good,” consider the fact that plenty of other American choppers have been shot down by Afghan insurgents in the past decade.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration, which has hardly been shy about going after Iran in recent months (for its alleged arming of insurgents in Iraq and alleged links to Al Qaeda), described the attack as merely a “lucky shot.”

Actual journalist Jeff Stein summarizes: Thor “offered CNN host John King a convoluted explanation of the weapon suspected of downing the helicopter, which seems to have been a rocket-propelled grenade, as something uniquely Iranian (as opposed to the Pakistan-supplied weapons they’ve been using for years).”

Now, it’s clear that Iran is playing some kind of role in Afghanistan, its neighbor — but the politics of the matter are far more complicated than Thor and former Bush aide Fran Townsend suggested on CNN. There have been Western allegations of Iran providing weapons to insurgents; though in 2010, Bob Gates called Iranian support for the Taliban “pretty limited.” There have also been reports that Iran is providing money to America’s own man in Kabul, Hamid Karzai. And Karzai has a working relationship with none other than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

If there’s any actual evidence that Iran was involved in downing the helicopter, or providing the weapons that did, let’s air it and discuss what it means. If not, stop inviting people on TV to repeat politically motivated innuendo.

I’ve reached out to Thor through his agent for comment, and I will update this post if I hear back. Here is video of the CNN segment (the Iran discussion starts around 3 minutes in):

Justin Elliott is a reporter for ProPublica. You can follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Api Étoile

    Like little stars.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Calville Blanc

    World's best pie apple. Essential for Tarte Tatin. Has five prominent ribs.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Chenango Strawberry

    So pretty. So early. So ephemeral. Tastes like strawberry candy (slightly).

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Chestnut Crab

    My personal fave. Ultra-crisp. Graham cracker flavor. Should be famous. Isn't.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    D'Arcy Spice

    High flavored with notes of blood orange and allspice. Very rare.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Esopus Spitzenberg

    Jefferson's favorite. The best all-purpose American apple.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Granite Beauty

    New Hampshire's native son has a grizzled appearance and a strangely addictive curry flavor. Very, very rare.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Hewes Crab

    Makes the best hard cider in America. Soon to be famous.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Hidden Rose

    Freak seedling found in an Oregon field in the '60s has pink flesh and a fragrant strawberry snap. Makes a killer rose cider.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Knobbed Russet

    Freak city.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Newtown Pippin

    Ben Franklin's favorite. Queen Victoria's favorite. Only apple native to NYC.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Pitmaston Pineapple

    Really does taste like pineapple.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>