CNN Turkey Reports ‘American Sniper’ Bradley Cooper Killed in Syria, U.S. Military Denies

The U.S. coalition denied on Friday the deaths of two Special Forces members after social media and mainstream news reports carrying an image purporting to show a dead U.S. soldier were spread by two of the Pentagon’s allies currently battling one another in Syria.

The reports were initially carried by accounts that appeared supportive of both the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and those supportive of the Turkish military fighting them in the northwestern district of Afrin in Aleppo, Syria. In both versions, the subject of the photograph was described as a Special Forces member named Eddie Bragdon, who went by the nom de guerre Zana Rizgar and who was killed fighting alongside the U.S.-backed Kurds. 

Related: U.S. says Turkey is helping ISIS by bombing Kurds in Syria

The problem? Social media users and analysts quickly pointed out that the man in the picture was actually U.S. actor Bradley Cooper appearing as he did in his role as late Navy SEAL veteran Chris Kyle in the 2014 film American Sniper. But not before mainstream Turkish outlets such as CNN Turk ran with the story.

birdpersonBradleyCooperoriginal In what’s believed to be the original claim, an account supportive of the Kurdish YPG reported the death of U.S. Special Forces member Eddie Bragdon, a.k.a. Zana Rizgar, instead of the actual individual pictured: U.S. actor Bradley Cooper in the film “American Sniper.” The user later claimed that the post was intended to be satirical and criticized Turkish media for picking it up literally. Social Media

“It’s a strange incident,” Nate Schenkkan, director of the Nations in Transit project at U.S.-funded think tank Freedom House, told Newsweek.

Schenkkan, who specialized in analyzing Turkish media, put together what he believed to be a timeline of events explaining how the misinformation spread. First, a pro-YPG account with the username Bird Person posted the image Thursday, along with the erroneous claim. The post was then widely shared by both pro-YPG and pro-Turkey users, the latter of whom claimed it was evidence of U.S. backing for YPG efforts to defend the Kurd-controlled enclave that Turkish forces and Syrian rebels have been assaulting for the past few days.

Early Friday, Pentagon spokesperson Army Colonel Ryan Dillon tweeted, “Reports of two US-Coalition members killed in Afrin are FALSE. Completely UNTRUE,” adding that the U.S.-led coalition remained supportive of Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) elsewhere in Syria. It was unclear where reports of the second casualty came from, and the U.S.-led coalition could not immediately be reached for comment.

Despite this denial, which did not mention Bragdon by name, Turkish media began picking up the story. Many of these pieces have since been taken offline, but a Google search still revealed a result of a CNN Turk article describing the alleged death of the U.S. serviceman. Clicking on the link led to a 404 error.

CNNTurkBradleyCooper A Google search for “‘Eddie Bragdon’ CNN Turk” produced the following result, but clicking the link produced a 404 error, meaning the page could not be found. Social media users also screenshot a CNN Turk tweet describing the article, on January 26. Google

The Bird Person account has since mocked the Turkish reaction to a post he has told other users was intended to be satirical from the beginning. Some pro-Turkey accounts have deleted their tweets carrying the claim, while others have acknowledged that the picture was fake, but argued that the claim of a U.S. Special Forces death was still true.

“This is what it’s like,” said Schenkkan, who was critical of the Turkish media for picking up the unverified claims so quickly. “It started from the beginning. It started within the first hour of the Afrin operation.”

“It goes to show how this kind of thing can spiral out of control so quickly,” he added.

The YPG has formed the dominant faction of the Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, the U.S.’s main partner in battling ISIS. The Kurdish militia, however, was also considered a terrorist organization by Turkey for its alleged links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a militant group that has waged a nationalist insurgency against Turkey for decades. Turkey has been a member of U.S.-led Western military alliance NATO for more than half a century and was also considered a key U.S. ally.

rtx4jawa-3rd-try A map last updated January 22 shows areas of Syria where Turkish forces have moved against Kurdish fighters. Neither Russia, Syria nor the U.S. have moved to block the Turkish invasion. Institute for the Study of War/Maps4News

President Donald Trump called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to “de-escalate the situation” in Afrin and “exercise caution” on Wednesday. Erdogan has pressed on, however, even as the Pentagon asserted Thursday that “Afrin operations are impeding the task to eliminate ISIS.”

That same day, Kurdish forces called on the Syrian military “to carry out its sovereign duties toward Afrin and to protect its borders with Turkey from attack.” The Syrian military, loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has retaken most of the country with the help of Russia and Iran, countering an insurgency by jihadis and rebels such as the formerly CIA-backed Free Syrian Army, which has joined Turkey attacking Afrin.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency cited Friday an official source in the Syrian Foreign Ministry condemning the Turkish invasion and calling on the international community to halt it.

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