The U.S. Marine Corps said on Wednesday it would investigate a video showing what appear to be American forces in Afghanistan urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters.
The video could aggravate anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan after a decade of a war that has seen other cases of abuse. The marine video release comes at a sensitive moment, with Washington trying to promote Afghan reconciliation as U.S. troops gradually withdraw from the country.
The video, which was posted on YouTube and other websites, shows four men in camouflage marine combat uniforms urinating on three corpses.
One of them jokes: “Have a nice day, buddy.” Another makes a lewd joke.
“While we have not yet verified the origin or authenticity of this video, the actions portrayed are not consistent with our core values and are not indicative of the character of the marines in our corps,” the U.S. Marine Corps said in a statement.
“This matter will be fully investigated.”
On Thursday, the NATO-led security force in Afghanistan condemned the behaviour and said the personnel are no longer serving there.
“This disrespectful act is inexplicable and not in keeping with the high moral standards we expect of coalition forces,” the International Security Assistance Force said a statement.
The ISAF said the actions “appear to have been conducted by a small group of U.S. individuals, who apparently are no longer serving in Afghanistan.” The statement did not identify the personnel or explain why the ISAF thought they had left the country.
Two U.S. military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the video appeared to be authentic at first look but Reuters could not independently verify the video or its source.
A Muslim civil-rights group in the United States condemned the alleged desecration of corpses in a letter to Defence Secretary Leon Panetta.
“Any guilty parties must be punished to the full extent allowed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice and by relevant American laws,” the Council on American-Islamic Relations said in the letter, a copy of which was sent to media organizations, including Reuters.
Strong reaction to the story spread on military-related websites, including on Stars and Stripes, the leading U.S. Defence Department-authorized news publication.
The U.S. military has been prosecuting soldiers from the Army’s 5th Stryker Brigade on charges of murdering unarmed Afghan civilians while deployed in Kandahar province in 2010.
In that case, photographs published in March by two magazines – Der Spiegel and Rolling Stone – showed soldiers posing with the bloodied corpse of an Afghan boy they had just killed.
At the Pentagon, Captain John Kirby said the Defence Department was “deeply troubled” by the video.
“Whoever it is, and whatever the circumstances – which we know is under investigation – it is egregious behaviour and unacceptable for a member of the military,” said Capt. Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman.
U.S. ambassador Marc Grossman is due to visit Afghanistan and Qatar next week for talks with the Afghan and Qatari governments.
With a file from The Associated Press