Major General Roger Cloutier Jr. speaks during a press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on May 10, 2018. ( AFP / JIM WATSON)

Senior US military officer was not captured by Russian forces in Ukraine

Copyright AFP 2017-2022. All rights reserved.

As Russian strikes pounded the besieged port city of Mariupol in Ukraine, Facebook posts shared in various languages claimed US General Roger L. Cloutier was captured by Russian forces there. However, NATO said the rumour was "completely false" and that Cloutier, who leads NATO's Allied Land Command, had not been to Ukraine since July 2021. Cloutier was in Turkey when the false claims about his whereabouts circulated online.

"There are rumours that Major General Roger L. Cloutier Jr, commander of the United States Army Africa (what is the commander of the United States Army Africa doing in Ukraine?) was captured in Mariupol, where he was helping to command Azov forces," reads a Thai Facebook post shared on April 7.

"It was reported that he was caught attempting to leave Mariupol disguised as a villager," it adds.

Cloutier heads NATO's Allied Land Command and previously commanded the US Army Africa and Southern Europe Task Force.

The Azov Regiment, which is entrenched in Mariupol, has been at the heart of the propaganda war between Ukraine and Russia, as Moscow claims to seek the "denazification" of its pro-Western neighbour.

Created in 2014 by far-right activists, the regiment initially displayed emblems such as the "Wolfsangel" (wolf hook) that is associated with Nazi Germany. It has since been integrated into Ukraine's national guard, and experts say it has been "de-ideologised".

A screenshot of the misleading Facebook post, taken on April 13, 2022.

Similar Facebook posts circulating in various languages, including English and French.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky estimated tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in Russia's bloody siege of Mariupol, a strategic port city in the southeast between Russia-occupied Crimea and pro-Russian separatist regions in Ukraine's east.

NATO denial

However, the Facebook posts are incorrect.

"These claims are completely false," a representative for the headquarters of NATO's Allied Command Operations, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) told AFP.

The spokesperson said Cloutier last visited Ukraine in July 2021, when he attended talks in the capital Kyiv aimed at strengthening NATO's partnership with Ukrainian forces.

According to social media posts, Cloutier was in Turkey as the false rumour about his capture in Ukraine spread online.

Cloutier shared a photo on LinkedIn on April 5 showing him speaking at a NATO event in the Turkish city of Izmir, where the political and military alliance's Allied Land Command is based.

NATO's Alliance Land Command posted the same photo on Facebook on that day.

On April 6, Cloutier replied to a comment from a LinkedIn user asking about rumours of his detention in Ukraine.

"These rumors are completely false," he wrote.

A screenshot of Cloutier's reply on LinkedIn, taken on April 11, 2022.

US fact-checking agency PolitiFact also debunked this claim.

AFP has debunked a wave of misinformation surrounding the conflict in Ukraine.

Ukraine conflict