US and Afghan officials have condemned a video purportedly showing US Marines urinating on the bodies of slain Taliban fighters. Though the Taliban says the “brutal” acts will not derail peace talks, the damage to the US mission may be irreversible.
A statement released by Afghan President Hamid Karzai Thursday called the act “completely inhumane” and demanded the US military punish the marines responsible, the Associated Press reports.
Meanwhile, the White House is scrambling to contain the fallout from the latest accusation of war crimes against US soldiers.
On Thursday, defense secretary Leon Panetta released a strongly-worded statement concerning the incident.
"I have seen the footage, and I find the behavior depicted in it utterly deplorable. I condemn it in the strongest possible terms," Panetta said.
Also, Marc Grossman, Obama's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is expected to fly into the region this weekend to hold talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as well as other top officials from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Fears remain that Grossman’s attempts to reach an agreement with the Taliban concerning the opening of a political office in Qatar could be scuttled by the latest scandal.
However, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that despite the shocking nature of the video, peace talks would continue unaffected.
"This is not the first time we see such brutality. We know that our country is occupied,” he said.
“This is not a political process, so the video will not harm our talks and prisoner exchange because they are at the preliminary stage," he continued, as cited by Reuters.
But while limited internet access has prevented the footage from going viral in Afghanistan, the spread of such images could further whip up anti-American sentiment.
Last year, Afghan media reports of an American “kill squad” which targeted Afghan civilians for sport and a US pastor’s Koran-burning media stunt inspired deadly attacks and violence across the country.
Ahmed Quraishi, president of the lobbying group the Paknationalists forum, told RT the nature of the freshest accusations of abuse committed at by US troops could be particularly inflammatory.
“Let’s not forget this is a region where religious values are really very deeply entrenched. The way you treat bodies and the way you treat the dead is something that is something that is treated very sacredly here. With this video, you can rest assured that this will have an impact in terms of the kind of reaction, the kind of backlash that this video will generate against the American soldiers who are there right now in Afghanistan. It really endangers their lives. It’s fair to say that with this video surfacing, the lives of American soldiers in Afghanistan have are in a more precarious situation than they were before this video.”
And Imtiaz Gul, head of the Islamabad-based Center for Research and Security, told RT the latest scandal plays right into the Taliban’s hands.
“I think such videos, scenes and incidents play into the psy-operations that the Taliban and other militants are conducting. This obviously falls in synch with what the Taliban are trying to tell the world, as well as their own people. Here, you are dealing with foreign occupation forces, forces which have little regard for human rights, for the locals and even for dead bodies,” he said.
Watch Imtiaz Gul's full interview with RT
Although the US Marine Corps have yet to verify the authenticity of the video, which was anonymously posted on YouTube, it has promised to investigate an act which is illegal under both the Geneva conventions and US military law.