An internet video showing Canadian soldiers laughing as they blow up an Afghan house is an intentional twisting of the truth, the army says: In fact, it shows the demolition of an ammunition cache.
The circulation of the video, posted on YouTube and some other websites, shows the delicate nature of efforts to win the "hearts and minds" of the people caught in a long-running war where Western troops have wielded heavy firepower.
The video appears on YouTube alongside comments like, "Who is watching the so-called protectors?" An Iranian state-media site asserted it shows Canadians "blowing up the house of an Afghan villager only to entertain themselves."
That, according to Lieutenant-Colonel Christian Lemay, a spokesman for the Canadian Forces, is a deliberate misrepresentation. The size of the blast when the mud building explodes shows it's the demolition of an ammunition cache, not an ordinary home, he said.
It is not clear when and where the incident took place. Canadian troops withdrew from combat last year, where they operated in Kandahar, but 950 are in Kabul training Afghan soldiers.
"If you just blow up mud walls, they won't blow up this way." Lt.-Col. Lemay said, after military engineers examined the video.
During the combat mission, the Canadian Forces' duties included finding and destroying ammunition caches, done to prevent the Taliban from killing more Afghan, allied, or Canadian soldiers, he said. "This was not a house of a poor Afghan that we were blowing up. This was an ammunition cache."
The situation, however, is still a concern for the forces, because the portrayal of the video could affect Afghans' views of Canadians.
Other incidents involving NATO troops have sparked tensions. The Afghan Army soldier accused of killing four French soldiers Friday has, according to an AFP report, said he was motivated by a video of U.S. Marines urinating on dead bodies.
Iranian news channels, like the one that asserted Canadians blew up a house for fun, have wide audiences in Afghanistan; and many Afghans share such videos via the Internet or cellphones.
"You click and download," said Shukria Barakzai, an Afghan member of parliament. "Media don't have any borders anymore. You saw this recently, a man killed four French soldiers because he got so angry."
The undated video showing Canadians starts with a shot of a small building in a field, with Canadian soldiers talking off-camera. Then a huge explosion sends smoke billowing high into the air. "Holy [expletive]" one soldier exclaims. The camera quickly pans across a few soldiers, and laughter is heard. "That was beautiful," one soldier says.
Lt.-Col. Lemay said he "cannot justify" the laughter, but speculated it could be laughing at a successful demolition, or nervous laughter.
Any impression Canadians were laughing at property destruction would touch a nerve in Kandahar. Mohammed Naseem, owner of the largest newspaper in southern Afghanistan, said that razing of villages and compounds has become a topic as troops have surged into the south in recent years.
"In Kandahar, this is a serious thing," Mr. Naseem said. "But these guys are making a game of it." Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington said it would shape impressions of Canadian soldiers. "Laughing and joking while blowing up a home sends a very negative message," he said.
Lt.-Col. Lemay, however, said setting the record straight is important: "It's being pushed to misrepresent and to show negatively the good work of Canadians in Afghanistan."