Analyzing the video

I know I went kinda bonkers on this.  But this video poses more questions than it answers.  Here’s my bottom-line analysis:

  • The video has been heavily and deceptively edited, apparently for propaganda value
  • The first ‘explosion’ it depicts was actually part of a bigger blast. The 1st SVBIED hit elsewhere, unseen by the camera
  • Clearing up the false impressions allows us to grasp the truth of 11 April attack

Deep dive on the Gannon attack video (strap in, this is long)

One of the most famous videos from the entire Iraq War is the one issued by AQI’s media arm, showing the triple truck-bomb attack on Camp Gannon on 11 Apr 2005.  It has been shown many times on major news channels, and is often spliced into other footage for dramatic effect.  And it is truly dramatic. In that sense, AQI’s propaganda shop scored a strategic win by releasing it. It seems to show a ‘martyrdom operation’ landing a devastating blow against the Americans. The truth, however, is that the attack failed to penetrate the base and didn’t kill any Americans.  In fact, during the ‘complex attack’ (employing suicide bombers, mortars and direct fire) which went on for more than an hour after the detonations, the Marines killed dozens of AQI fighters.  Tactically, it was a failure.

The highly-edited video is also quite deceptive. Upon close review, it raises multiple questions about what it actually shows.  Here I’ll break it down, showing different still shots, correlating them to Google Earth imagery, and posing some theories to explain discrepancies.  (If you haven’t seen it before, or not for a long time, view it here).

Where did it come from?  video-youtube-clip

First off, remember that the version we see on YouTube today is a copy of a copy of a copy (not sure how many generations). The original footage is of course unavailable.  AQI edited that into a version that they distributed to various jihadist websites–before the days of YouTube.  Then a civilian terrorism analyst, Evan Kholmann, placed it on his (now inactive) website, with a translation of the accompanying Arabic audio (haven’t found that translation yet).  Following that, someone (an India Co. Marine?) added more explanatory subtitles and that version got posted to YouTube.  On 18May2011, the YouTube account of ‘JohnnyDestroyerUSMC’ uploaded it, and that’s the version we have publicly available now.

Don’t believe everything you see

The quality of the video is therefore quite degraded. Also, the subtitles on it are not necessarily accurate. While they seem to have been added by a Marine who was at Gannon, we don’t know who that was or if what they say is accurate. And when AQI edited the video, they cut together different scenes to show their preferred storyline. Those scenes may not be in actual chronological order, and some of what we see may be repeats and zoom-ins of the same scenes.

0:14 in the video

The inaccuracies start right off the bat.  While the superimposed red text shows the date of 18 April, the attack actually occurred on 11 April. By the way, the red text seems to have been added by Evan Kholmann or an associate, based on their translations of the Arabic soundtrack.  So I assume that name “Abu Shaheed the Lebanese” comes from the AQI media team.

Locations of the cameraman/cameramen

There are at least two viewpoints in the video. One from a rooftop about 800 meters southeast of Gannon (see India almost nailed the cameraman). Most of the video we see was shot from that location.

Blue square is the P-1 guard tower, red triangle is the cameraman on the roof, red arrow shows path of the truckbombs heading north along Westend Rd.
0:50 in the video

The other is from inside a moving vehicle, following behind the white dump-truck SVBIED. We only see that for about a second.  We don’t know if that footage was shot during the attack, or from days before during a practice run. I’m not sure where it was shot, but the road in the scene is paved, so it may well have been along what the Marines called ‘Westend Road’.

What are we looking at? 

It helps immensely to correlate the viewpoint of the video with overhead Google Earth imagery, so we’re correctly oriented and know where things occurred.  Below is a tighter overhead shot, with key locations and features marked:video-map1
At the upper left is Syria, separated from Iraq by a large earthen berm, and the border crossing area (which was still physically closed down and blocked in 2005).  Just below that is the main part of Camp Gannon, protected by a high wall made of HESCO barriers (outlined in green).  Along the HESCO wall were several fortified towers and strongpoints, called P1 through P8.  P1, P2 & P8 are shown, circled in red.  Right by P2 is an ECP (entry control point), essentially a fortified gate. In the upper right is the old Iraqi Army and Border Police base, which in 2005 was occupied 24/7 by Marines from 3/2.  They called it the ‘ING compound‘, although no Iraqi personnel were there at the time.

In between Gannon’s eastern wall and the ING compound was the ‘training area‘ (what some Marines called it), with perimeter fencing or barriers around it, but it was less secure than Gannon or the ING compound.  The training area was protected by fire from Gannon’s towers and rooftop positions in the ING compound.  The dotted green line shows my own conjecture for the outer area’s perimeter. On the eastern edge of that perimeter is an arched gate structure, built years before as part of the border crossing area.

Westend Road is the paved road running north and south along the western edge of Husaybah.  Market Street runs east-west through the center of downtown Husaybah. At that time, the ING compound completely blocked the west end of Market Street.  Civilian traffic could not flow through the ING compound.

0:43 in the video

Most of what the video shows is the eastern edge of Gannon, with P1 and P2 towers in view.  To the right of them, in the outer area, you see several large metal-roof buildings which were inspection and storage sheds supporting the border crossing.  You can make out P1 and P2 (red circles added), and the corner of a large, open-walled, white-roofed shed/building at the far right.

The mysterious 1st explosion

The depiction of the first SVBIED is the most confusing part of the video, due to incorrect text commentary and (I believe) deceptive editing.  At 0:52, a pop-up text box says “SUV blowing up checkpoint”. But this is incorrect.

Actually, Marines who were there maintain that the 1st SVBIED that morning (reportedly a Chevy Suburban) hit the southern perimeter of the ING compound, NOT Camp Gannon.  The ING compound was over 300 meters to the east (right), and well out of frame from the camera’s view.

0:53 in the video

But, the video clearly shows an explosion at 0:53, which kicks up a lot of dust all across the outer area.  Something appears to detonate directly in front of, almost underneath, P2 and a plume of dark smoke obscures the tower from our view.

So what’s going on here?  If it wasn’t the first SVBIED, was it a mortar or rocket impact?  It seems much smaller than the two massive explosions which follow, but that’s not the signature of a mortar or rocket impact. Neither would account for all that dust.

Here’s my analysis: For whatever reason, the AQI media team did not use footage from the 1st VBID at all (maybe it was unavailable or unimpressive).  They edited in a portion of the footage from the 2nd SVBIED–the white dumptruck–and zoomed into the area just to the left of that huge explosion.  So what we’re seeing in this alleged 1st SVBIED detonation is the ‘shockwave’ effect from the dump-truck, instantly kicking up all the dust and throwing debris outwards.  If you watch carefully, you can even see that it progresses right to left.  And the puff of black smoke that obscures P2 is actually a ‘backsplash’ effect throwing debris, dust and smoke outwards against the HESCO barrier, and pushing it up onto P2. The plume of dark smoke may be from a small ‘sympathetic’ explosion.

So what you see at 0:53 thru 1:05 is actually the blast wave effects of the 2nd VBID (the white dump-truck) slamming across the outer area and against the walls of Gannon.  As we’ll see, directly off-frame to the right is the huge, fireball explosion from the white dump-truck.  The editor deceptively used zoomed-in and cropped footage from that explosion to make it seem like there was a separate explosion immediately before.

The huge 2nd explosionvideo-closeup1

The video makes it seem like the 2nd SVBIED followed the first by seconds. At 1:05 it cuts to clearly show the white dump-truck rolling into a red-roofed structure. The Google Earth image at right shows the road the truck must have taken, the red-roofed shed structure, and a large brown-roofed structure to the left.  This is all in the outer area, to the east of P2.

Almost immediately after the dump-truck enters the red-roofed structure, it detonates with a huge, fiery explosion (Update: I’m told it detonated just outside the structure).  Plainly, that is the white dump-truck. No flim-flam is evident here. This is the explosion that everyone at Gannon vividly remembers. It threw Marines out of their bunks, knocked down the guys in the towers, and lifted up concrete roofs on Gannon.

1:05 on the video

The size and power of the exploding truck are the cause of the blast effects seen in the previous scene (happening just off-frame to the left). If the scene weren’t cropped, we’d see those effects as part of the dump-truck explosion. Using editing software and selective cropping, the media team used one huge explosion to give the impression of two separate events.

The mega-huge 3rd explosion (maybe)

Then comes the big kahuna.  It’s well-established that the infamous firetruck VBID came barreling through seconds behind the dump-truck.  It erupted near the same place, in an even bigger explosion. And all accounts agree it was the 3rd and last SVBIED strike that day.

1:24 on the video

The video, however, doesn’t show the firetruck at all (which is odd, since that was supposed to be the real killing payload).  It just cuts right to a zoomed-out scene showing another truly massive explosion. The blast and fireball were so big, so violent, that many compared it to an atomic detonation.

But this scene bothers me a bit.  I’ve replayed it many times now, and I have a sneaking suspicion that its actually the dump-truck explosion again. I can’t really peg it down, but there’s just something about the blast pattern and erupting fireball that seems to match the closeup of the dump-truck cooking off.  Anyone else see what I’m talking about?

I admit, this is a much weaker theory than my assessment of the 1st ‘false explosion’.  And at least one eyewitness says I’m wrong.  A member of India Co. who saw that last explosion explicitly remembers a huge piece of metal that was tossed sky-high.  He was mesmerized by the sight.

1:25 on the video

Sure enough, the video shows a large piece of debris (part of the firetruck?) flying upwards at the edge of the fireball. So, I’m willing to concede that in this case, the video is showing what it purports to show.

One more piece of deceptive editing is evident in the video.  And it adds to my suspicions about every part of it.  If you look closely at the post-blast mushroom cloud, starting at about 1:40, it looks familiar.  Then, if you go back to 0:36, you’ll see that same slanted smoke column. That’s the same mushroom cloud, but just the ‘stem’ of the mushroom. The ‘head’ is cropped out of the frame. I don’t know the reason why they would put it up front like that.  Maybe they were just using it for filler.


3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines and the fight for Al-Qaim, Iraq

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