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A gritty war video circulating on the Internet that shows U.S. troops firing repeatedly on a group of men — some of whom were unarmed — walking down a Baghdad street is authentic, a senior U.S. military official confirmed Monday.
The official said the video posted at Wikileaks.org was of a July 12, 2007, firefight involving Army helicopters in the New Baghdad District of eastern Baghdad.
Among those believed to have been killed in that attack was Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and his driver Saeed Chmagh, 40. Two children also were wounded.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the video, said the military could not confirm the identities of the Reuters employees in the film.
The Pentagon would not confirm the video’s authenticity on the record, despite repeated requests from The Associated Press.
“At this time, we are working to verify the source of the video, its veracity, and when or where it was recorded,” a statement from U.S. military headquarters in Iraq said late Monday.
The military also provided redacted copies of portions of its inquiry into the July 2007 incident, again without confirming that the incident described in those documents is the same one posted by Wikileaks.
According to a July 19 summary of the investigation, U.S. troops acted appropriately. Reuters employees were likely “intermixed among the insurgents” and difficult to distinguish because of their equipment, the document states.
“It is worth noting the fact that insurgent groups often video and photograph friendly activity and insurgent attacks against friendly forces for use in training videos and for use as propaganda to exploit or highlight their capabilities,” the document concludes.
The incident has been reported before, but the video had not been released.
The video provides a rare, disturbing close-up of modern urban warfare at a time when violence was near its peak in Baghdad and the U.S. death toll was mounting.
In this incident, soldiers flying attack helicopters were called in to assist ground troops who had been pinned down by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.
According to U.S. officials, the pilots arrived at the scene to find a group of men approaching the fight with what looked to be AK-47s slung over their shoulders and at least one rocket-propelled grenade.
A military investigation later concluded that what was thought to be an RPG was really a long-range photography lens; likewise, the camera looked like an AK-47.
Wikileaks.org posts video and documents passed along by anonymous sources. They posted the video of the July 2007 firefight at “collateralmurder.com.”
The shooters can be heard asking for permission to engage, and one says “Light ‘em up!”
Some men drop immediately, while at least one can be seen scrambling to get away.
“Ah, yeah, look at those dead bastards. Nice,” one shooter says.
The helicopters later destroy a vehicle that arrived on the scene to help a wounded man. When ground forces arrive, the video shows what looks to be a child being carried from the vehicle and U.S. troops saying the child should be sent to a local Iraqi hospital.
“Well, it’s their fault bringing their kids into the battle,” a cockpit voice can be heard saying.
Navy Capt. Jake Hanzlik, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said U.S. forces in Iraq recognize many of the images in the video posted at Wikileaks.org and have no reason to believe it is a fake. However, he said, they were still comparing the video and audio to see if it matched their own.
Headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., Central Command is responsible for U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia.
Reuters said it couldn’t verify that the video was of its employees dying, even though it looks like one of the men killed had a camera slung over his shoulder.
The video is “graphic evidence of the dangers involved in war journalism and the tragedies that can result,” said David Schlesinger, editor-in-chief of Reuters news.