On July 6 2021, Twitter user @SIGSYS published two screenshots, one a satirical headline from The Onion in July 2011 about the United States having “quietly slip[ped] out of Afghanistan in [the] dead of night,” and a July 2021 Associated Press headline:
The Onion 10 years ago, and AP today
Ten. Fucking. Years. pic.twitter.com/ykEkrRXUbs
— PanickedJanet (@SIGSYS) July 6, 2021
In the first screenshot, The Onion‘s headline read: “U.S. Quietly Slips Out Of Afghanistan In Dead Of Night.” The second AP piece was dated “19 minutes ago” (on July 5 2021), and its headline stated: “US left Afghan airfield at night, didn’t tell new commander.”
Inherently, the tweet observed that The Onion, which is well known as a satirical take on general news, predicated a news story on the United States abruptly abandoning operations in Afghanistan in 2011. By dint of the existence of the second piece, the decade-old humor item became unwittingly prophetic.
— The Onion (@TheOnion) December 13, 2011
A Reddit user shared the link to r/humor on July 19 2011:
Clicking through led to the story, which was dated July 18 2011:
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN—In what officials said was the “only way” to move on from what has become a “sad and unpleasant” situation, all 100,000 U.S. military and intelligence personnel crept out of their barracks in the dead of night Sunday [July 17 2011] and quietly slipped out of Afghanistan.
U.S. commanders explained their sudden pullout in a short, handwritten note left behind at Bagram Airfield, their largest base of operations in the country … According to firsthand accounts, the 90,000 American troops stationed in Afghanistan lay in their beds pretending to be asleep until well after midnight Tuesday [July 19 2021]. They then reportedly tiptoed out to a fleet of awaiting Humvees, tanks, armored cars, and stealth aircraft; gently eased the doors shut; and departed as silently as possible so as not to wake the 30- million-person nation.
Gen. David Petraeus, outgoing commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, acknowledged that while finally leaving Afghanistan the way they did was perhaps not the “most ideal” way of ending things, emotions in the region had been running too high lately to consider any other alternative.
“We could have slowly and steadily withdrawn from Afghanistan, but trust me, that would have needlessly prolonged what we both knew deep down was an unhealthy, dead-end relationship,” Petraeus said. “And we just couldn’t bear to look the Afghan people in the eye and tell them flat out that we were packing up and leaving.”
As for the AP item shown in the second screenshot, it too was an authentic published article from the same day the images were tweeted. Titled “US left Afghan airfield at night, didn’t tell new commander,” its structure was again uncomfortably reminiscent of the July 2011 satirical piece:
BAGRAM, Afghanistan (AP) — The U.S. left Afghanistan’s Bagram Airfield after nearly 20 years by shutting off the electricity and slipping away in the night without notifying the base’s new Afghan commander, who discovered the Americans’ departure more than two hours after they left, Afghan military officials said.
Afghanistan’s army showed off the sprawling air base Monday [July 5 2021], providing a rare first glimpse of what had been the epicenter of America’s war to unseat the Taliban and hunt down the al-Qaida perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks on America.
The U.S. announced Friday [July 2 2021] it had completely vacated its biggest airfield in the country in advance of a final withdrawal the Pentagon says will be completed by the end of August.
“We (heard) some rumor that the Americans had left Bagram … and finally by seven o’clock in the morning, we understood that it was confirmed that they had already left Bagram,” Gen. Mir Asadullah Kohistani, Bagram’s new commander said.
With respect to The Onion articles “becoming real,” a 2015 GQ.com piece provided five instances where real life reflected the outlet’s previously published satire:
In the last few years, the phrase “This is just like The Onion predicted!” has been floated around, and it turns out the fake publication’s writers have a knack for predicting news before it happens, sometimes years before. The formula is hardly rocket science: They can take a cultural phenomenon—or someone’s behavior, or a political movement—and extrapolate it to the point of absurdity. And every so often, the stars align and the punchline becomes real. Here are just a few of them.
In the widely-shared tweet highlighting “The Onion 10 years ago, and AP today,” screenshots of two accurately presented and dated articles appeared. The first was The Onion‘s “U.S. Quietly Slips Out Of Afghanistan In Dead Of Night,” published on July 18 2011. The second was published on July 6 2021 by the Associated Press, titled “US left Afghan airfield at night, didn’t tell new commander.” Although it wasn’t immediately visible in screenshot form, both articles had uncomfortably similar initial wording.