U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is promising a full investigation after seeing a video that shows four men dressed in U.S. Marine uniforms urinating over what appear to be the bodies of dead Afghans.
The video on various Internet websites shows four men dressed in U.S. Marine combat uniforms, standing in a half-circle and urinating on corpses dressed in traditional Afghan clothing.
The U.S. defense secretary issued a statement calling the actions depicted in the video utterly deplorable. Leon Panetta said he has ordered the head of the U.S. Marine Corps and the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to investigate.
The Pentagon has yet to confirm the video as authentic, but Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain John Kirby says there is no reason to believe it is not real.
“It certainly appears to us to be what it appears to be to you guys. It does. Troops urinating on corpses," said Kirby. "But there is an investigation process ongoing. We need to let that work its way through to determine all the facts of the case.”
The U.S. Marine Corps has not commented on the identities or units of those involved. Kirby says the behavior shown in the video does not reflect the standards of the U.S. military.
“That is not who we are and that is not what we do, no matter the circumstances,” said Kirby.
The Afghan Defense Ministry described the video as shocking. The Taliban insurgent group U.S. forces are battling in Afghanistan condemned the video as an example of what the group claims is a pattern of disrespect by U.S. troops toward Afghans.
The footage emerges as Washington prepares for peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban to end a long conflict in which Afghans have complained about the behavior of some U.S. troops.
Past instances of misconduct have included the case of a U.S. army platoon whose leader was sentenced to life in prison last year for killing Afghan civilians and keeping their body parts as trophies.
Military analysts say the number of atrocities documented in the decade-old war is relatively low and say the behavior shown in the video does not suggest a wider problem among U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan.
Retired Army Major General James “Spider” Marks calls the actions shown on the video rogue and aberrant behavior - and a possible failure of leadership.
“You put young men and women in circumstances where at one moment somebody is trying to kill you and slaughter you, and you are doing your best to stay alive and try to kill and slaughter them, and then the second it is over you need to compartmentalize what just occurred and you need to move on to the next task," said Marks. "And in this case clearly it broke down, so I would say it has more to do with the nature of warfare than geography.”
The International Security Assistance Force, the NATO-led force in Afghanistan says the individuals shown in the video are apparently no longer in Afghanistan.