On Friday morning, the official Facebook page for the U.S.-led coalition that’s fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria decided that airstrike-GIF-memes were a good way to kick off Labor Day weekend.
The Combined Joint Task Force — Operation Inherent Resolve is a multi-national military organization that’s responsible for most of the coalition bombing of ISIS and other terrorist groups in the Middle East. Grainy footage of airstrikes isn’t new, but earlier today someone on CJTF-OIR’s social media team decided to make a GIF of an airstrike on a speeding jeep with “YOU CAN RUN, BUT YOU CAN’T HIDE!” superimposed on the top.
A spokesperson for the CJTF-OIR, which works under CENTCOM, the U.S. Military’s central command office, told Inverse that the unorthodox social media move was meant to “engage a broader audience by trying something new and different.”
Initially, the coalition’s Facebook page didn’t give a whole lot of context to the specific airstrike, but they did offer up some hashtags alongside the caption, “When Da’esh can’t quite get up to 88 mph… #defeatdaesh #nottodayisis #backtothefuture #bttf #onemissionmanynations” With the Back to the Future reference, we assume that the Da’esh (ISIS) vehicle was trying to… time travel? Sure. Here’s the GIF, which CJTF-OIR conveniently hosted on Giphy, like any good meme.
The military spokesperson later confirmed that the airstrike occurred on August 21 in Qayyarah, Iraq “in support of ISF operations to retake the city of Qayyarah.” The CJTF-OIR is comprised of military assets from over 67 countries, at least 10 of which have conducted strikes in Iraq and Syria, but the organization “does not disclose the specific countries involved in individual strikes” to protect operational security.
The Back to the Future reference is still confusing, especially paired with an extremely cliché phrase like “You can run, but you can’t hide,” so we’re not entirely sure what they’re going for exactly. All of the camera data from the strike is scrubbed out, so perhaps the organization is referring to the Jeep’s speed at the time of the strike, which we can’t see in the GIF. Either way, it’s not really particularly funny, and that’s without even touching on the fact that a government organization is turning killing human beings into a social media meme.
The CJTF-OIR spokesperson said “YOU CAN RUN, BUT YOU CAN’T HIDE” was “chosen to show Da’esh, potential terrorist recruits, and the general public that the coalition is capable of targeting Da’esh fighters anywhere and anytime; to demonstrate that the efforts of the Coalition to defeat Dae’sh will be successful,” and to demonstrate that the group was “united in efforts to degrade and ultimately militarily defeat Daesh for the defense of our countries and to help set conditions for improved regional security and stability,” as well as “showing that we have a very arduous targeting process; that we are watching the Da’esh, no matter where they are and we will defeat them.”
ISIS is known for using social media like Tumblr and Twitter to recruit, and now it seems the CJTF-OIR is doing the same thing, with a cringey post that reads like someone’s dad trying to “stay hip with the memes” on Facebook. Sure, rampant chest-beating will always get some attention from people, but were two Back to the Future hashtags necessary? Apparently, the CJTF-OIR thinks people searching for #bttf or #backtothefuture on Facebook are going to see a GIF of a coalition airstrike and think, “wow, better join the military!”
“Da’esh routinely spreads lies and propaganda through social media and it is necessary to counter these and show the legitimacy of coalition claims to the broadest audience,” the CJTF-OIR spokesperson said. “The use of GIFs is a way of using contemporary graphics that might appeal to an audience who doesn’t necessarily look closely at our other material.”
Facebook, it turns out, was the best way for the CJTF-OIR to get its message out there. The organization’s official page has over 70,000 followers on the social media service, and sees GIFs as the cutting edge of social engagement.
“We plan on continuing to stay up to date with the latest social media trends in an effort to reach a wider audience and make them aware of the importance of defeating Dae’sh,” the CJTF-OIR spokesperson said. “In reaching a greater audience via the latest trends, our plan is to demonstrate that it will take a Coalition approach to sustain the gains achieved militarily against Daesh and ultimately achieve victory.”
Here’s the Facebook post in full, which had about 228 likes or reactions and 216 shares at the time of writing:
When asked about coalition airstrikes hitting hospitals and other civilian targets, however, CJTF-OIR was all business. Facebook user Janet Tallarigo Murphy commented on the post, asking “What is the plan to protect our children and hospitals?”. CJTF-OIR said that it had a “very arduous strike process which helps ensure that we are hurting Da’esh as much as possible, while protecting the civilians of Iraq, Syria and beyond.”
NGO estimates report that coalition airstrikes have killed up to 1,500 civilians during the recent operations in Iraq and Syria. That works out to a kill rate of roughly one civilian for every nine coalition airstrikes against suspected terrorists — so while the GIF in question most likely shows terrorists dying, without context, there’s a one-in-nine chance any airstrike GIF could make a meme out of a civilian death.
The CJTF-OIR isn’t sure if it will use the format in the future, although you can certainly expect more strike footage.
“While we commonly post strike imagery and video to our social media platforms, products in GIF format are new, though it remains to be seen whether we will use them in the future,” the spokesperson said. “The coalition consistently posts airstrikes on social media to demonstrate the Coalitions determination to defeat Dae’sh. As social media trends change, we understand the importance of staying up to date with the latest social media to reach a larger audience.”
Military assets from the U.S., Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Jordan, the Netherlands, and the U.K. have conducted airstrikes in Iraq as part of CJTF-OIR; and the U.S., Australia, Bahrain, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UAE, and the U.K. have all conducted strikes in Syria. U.S. Lieutenant General Stephen J. Townsend officially leads the coalition, under the purview of U.S. Central Command.