A video appears to show four US soldiers in Afghanistan urinating on three apparently lifeless men on the ground (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk). The soldiers seem to be aware that they are being filmed.
The origin of the video, first posted on the Live Leak website, is not known and it is not clear who posted it online.
The US Marine Corps issued a statement on Wednesday after the footage came to light saying that the matter would be fully investigated.
“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 statement said.
John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said: “Regardless of the circumstances or who is in the video, this is… egregious, disgusting behavior, unacceptable for anyone in uniform.
“It turned my stomach,” he added.
The Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said it “strongly condemns the actions depicted in the video, which appear to have been conducted by a small group of US individuals, who apparently are no longer serving in Afghanistan”.
In a statement on Thursday it called the actions portrayed in the video “inexplicable and not in keeping with the high moral standards” it said were expected of co-alition forces.
Former US Marine Corps pilot Lieutenant Colonel Jay Stout told Al Jazeera : “I am disturbed. Look, marines kill to win, and sometimes they kill a lot and that’s good, that’s fine, that’s war. But in victory we are trained to be compassionate, we are trained to be respectful and this incident was neither of those.”
The video has also been condemned by Afghan president Hamid Karzai.
“The government of Afghanistan is deeply disturbed by a video that shows American soldiers desecrating dead bodies of three Afghans,” said a statement from the Afghan president’s office on Thursday.
“This act by American soldiers is simply inhuman and condemnable in the strongest possible terms.
“We expressly ask the US government to urgently investigate the video and apply the most severe punishment to anyone found guilty in this crime.”
The video was described as “shameful” by the Taliban.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi told the BBC that this was not the first time Americans had carried out such a “wild action” adding that Taliban attacks on the Americans would continue.
But according to Zabihullah Mujahid, a different Taliban spokesman, the video “is not a political process, so the video will not harm our talks and prisoner exchange because they are at the preliminary stage”.
Last week the Taliban announced in a statement that they were planning on opening a political office outside Afghanistan – possibly in Qatar – as part of peace talks with the Afghan government and its Western allies.
In the meantime as a confidence-building measure, Washington has been considering releasing several Taliban prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay jail, Associated Press news agency said.
There are fears of a backlash against the foreign presence in Afghanistan once the video starts circulating.
“The US soldiers who urinated on dead bodies of Muslims have committed a crime,” Kabul resident Feda Mohammad told Reuters news agency.
“Since they’ve committed such a crime, we don’t want them on our soil anymore.”
The video would upset ordinary Afghans, regardless of how they felt about the Taliban, said Afghan Member of Parliament Fawzia Kofi.
“It’s a matter of a human being, respect to a human being,” she told the BBC.
“I believe that the brutal acts that the Taliban did here during their government and even now is condemned by Afghans. So is watching a brutal act by international forces. We condemn that as well,” she added.
In a separate case, the US military has been prosecuting five soldiers from the army’s 5th Stryker Brigade, who are accused of murdering unarmed Afghan civilians during their deployment in Kandahar province in 2010.
In this case, last March the magazines Der Spiegel and Rolling Stone have published photographs showing soldiers posing with the bloodied corpse of an Afghan boy they had just killed.
About 20,000 Marines are deployed in Afghanistan, based mostly in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, and in total about 90,000 US troops are in the country.
The US and its allies plan to hand over security in Afghanistan and withdraw combat troops by the end of 2014.