Fact check: Conspiracy theories falsely claim Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is a 'false flag'

·5 min read

The claim: The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is a ‘false flag’ staged for political gain

On Aug.16, hundreds of Afghan civilians swarmed an Air Force C-17 cargo plane after it landed at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Before military officials could unload the aircraft, security concerns led the crew to take off as some Afghans clung to the side of the aircraft.

In the days since, conspiracy theorists have pointed to viral videos of the deadly events as evidence the conflict in Afghanistan is not actually happening. Proponents of this “false flag” theory are highlighting the number 1109 on the side of the cargo plane as a signal the events are somehow connected to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Fact check: No evidence Taliban sentenced 229 Christian missionaries to death

One lengthy Instagram post from Aug. 18 presented the conspiracy this way: “I find it an odd 'coincidence' that the US plane that was in the Afganistan (sic) Taliban video was 1109, which seems to be hinting at 9/11 and thus another false flag event to provoke WW3 and order out of chaos and the crowning of the Antichrist false Savior and One World Leader."

However, the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan has been widely documented by journalists, world leaders and members of the Taliban. And despite what conspiracy theorists claim, the number on the side of the C-17 is a coincidental serial number – not a coded message.

A satellite image released by Maxar Technologies shows crowds near the entrance to Kabul's international airport on Aug. 16, 2021.
A satellite image released by Maxar Technologies shows crowds near the entrance to Kabul's international airport on Aug. 16, 2021.

This claim falls under the umbrella of “false flag” conspiracy theories, in which proponents say high-profile tragedies are events staged for political gain. USA TODAY has previously debunked “false flag” conspiracy theories related to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, mass shootings and other high-profile events.

USA TODAY reached out to the Instagram user for comment.

Media, government, Taliban confirm events in Afghanistan

The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan has been heavily documented. Journalists from the U.S., Afghanistan and other countries have reported on the Taliban’s takeover in Kabul via social media, video broadcast, photography and other mediums.

Leaders of the Taliban have filmed themselves in the presidential palace and made announcements about the plans for their regime on phone calls with reporters. Several Taliban spokespeople have posted about the takeover on Twitter.

Fact check: Viral video shows Syrian rebels in 2015, not Taliban in Kabul

Additionally, world leaders have repeatedly acknowledged the Taliban's takeover. The Biden administration addressed the conflict in interviews and official statements in the days surrounding Kabul's fall. The United Nations Security Council and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres also issued statements on how the international community should respond.

Members of the Taliban have control of the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 16.
Members of the Taliban have control of the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 16.

The number on the cargo plane is not a reference to 9/11

Despite what the post claims, the number on the aircraft has nothing to do with the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Air Force Media Operations Officer Laurel Tingley told USA TODAY the number on the side of the aircraft was not part of a conspiracy theory.

Fact check: Image claiming to show refugees leaving Afghanistan is from 2018

“The number 1109 is the last four digits of the serial number of the aircraft,” she wrote in an email.

Hundreds of people run alongside a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane as it moves down a runway of the international airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug.16. 2021. Thousands of Afghans have rushed onto the tarmac at the airport, some so desperate to escape the Taliban capture of their country that they held onto the American military jet as it took off and plunged to death.
Hundreds of people run alongside a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane as it moves down a runway of the international airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug.16. 2021. Thousands of Afghans have rushed onto the tarmac at the airport, some so desperate to escape the Taliban capture of their country that they held onto the American military jet as it took off and plunged to death.

Images of other C-17 aircraft with various serial numbers are posted on the Air Force’s website.

USA TODAY found no evidence to support claims that the conflict in Afghanistan was staged for political gain.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, the claim that the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is a "false flag" staged for political gain is rated FALSE. The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan following the U.S.’s military withdrawal is well-documented by the media, world leaders and members of the Taliban. The number on the Air Force cargo plane swarmed at Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug. 16 was not a coded message. The Air Force confirmed it was the last four digits of the aircraft's serial number.

Our fact-check sources:

Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.

Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is not 'false flag'

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting