Soldiers seen desecrating bodies of fighters

First it was the horrific images of prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison in 2004, then the ghoulish dismemberment of slain Afghan civilians in 2009 by a possibly deranged, rogue team in Afghanistan. This week a disturbing video that emerged on the Internet has once again put United States soldiers in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

The video, purportedly of U.S. marines from a sniper team in an unknown part of Afghanistan, shows four men standing in a semi-circle and urinating on three bodies of fighters, presumed to be Taliban, lying on the ground before them. One of the men can be heard saying, “Have a great day, buddy.”

Damage-control mode

Even as the images emerged, the Pentagon shifted into damage-control mode and Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta issued a statement saying, “I have seen the footage, and I find the behaviour depicted in it utterly deplorable. I condemn it in the strongest possible terms.”

He added that he had ordered the Marine Corps and International Security Assistance Force Commander General John Allen to immediately and fully investigate the incident, adding, “This conduct is entirely inappropriate for members of the U.S. military and does not reflect the standards or values our armed forces are sworn to uphold. Those found to have engaged in such conduct will be held accountable to the fullest extent.”

On Wednesday a Marine Corps official was reported to have said they would be investigating the YouTube video but “had not yet verified its origin or authenticity.”

The case has reportedly been referred to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, reports said.

Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, issued a strong condemnation describing the alleged actions as “completely inhumane,” and the Afghan Defence Ministry said it was “shocking.”

Taliban Spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said U.S. forces had committed numerous “indignities” against Afghans. “First they killed the Afghans with mortars, and they then urinated on their bodies,” he said, adding “We strongly condemn this inhumane action by the wild American soldiers.”

The video has emerged at an awkward time for the U.S. which is attempting to carefully guide its engagement in Afghanistan towards a significant military drawdown by 2014.

Thorny issue

In particular the issue of integrating the Taliban into any future dispensation has proved to be a thorny one for international forces.

The video has also surfaced just as Marc Grossman, President Barack Obama's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is to fly to the region for discussions with Mr. Karzai focused on getting an agreement for the Taliban to open a political office in Qatar.

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