A NATO ally dismissed as fake news claims that a U.S. Army Stryker armored vehicle accidentally ran down and killed a child during a road march through Lithuania in early June, Reuters reports, citing the rumor as an effort to undermine the Saber Strike 2018 joint military exercises currently underway in eastern Europe.
- The allegations emerged after four Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicles from the 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment collided near the Lithuanian border city of Prienai on June 7. While 13 American soldiers were injured, local blogs quickly asserted that the “obstacle” that caused the crash was, in fact, a Lithuanian child.
- According to an EU report on the rumor, the information “was specially fabricated to look as if it was announced from the real (and very popular) Lithuanian news portal,” with the main image clearly photoshopped.
- “This is a very typical example of the hostile information, and proves we are already being watched and are at informational war,” Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis said during a meeting of NATO defense officials on June 8th. “We have no doubt that this was a deliberate and coordinated attempt aiming to raise general society’s condemnation to our allies, as well as discredit the exercises and our joint efforts on defense strengthening.”
- Some 18,000 personnel from 18 other countries are currently engaged in Saber Strike 18 across Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia in order to keep NATO forces fresh and ready, an especially critical exercise given the rising tension with Russia following the 2014 annexation of Crimea and subsequent launch of Operation Atlantic Resolve.
While other Lithuanian officials have publically debunked the rumor as part of a broader disinformation campaign, Task & Purpose reached out to U.S. Army Europe and U.S. European Command for comment.
“The only injuries from the accident were military, no civilians were involved,” U.S. Army Europe public affairs director Col. Kathleen Turner told Task & Purpose in an email. “The report of a civilian child killed was an erroneous report that was debunked by actual Lithuanian media outlets.
“I prefer not to comment further on that report so we don’t bring additional attention to it,” she added. “If we keep talking about, some people may actually think it happened and question the factual reporting that has taken place.”