Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday harshly condemned alleged behavior in a video that appears to show U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters. The Pentagon chief said he'd ordered a full investigation into the alleged incident, which comes amid sensitive diplomatic initiatives to try to advance reconciliation talks with the Taliban.
"I have seen the footage, and I find the behavior depicted in it utterly deplorable," Panetta said in a press statement sent to Yahoo News Thursday. "I condemn it in the strongest possible terms."
Pentagon investigators have already identified two of the four U.S. Marines who appear on the video, the Associated Press reported Thursday.
"A Marine official said Thursday that the four were members of the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, which returned to its home base in North Carolina last fall after a tour in Afghanistan," the AP report said. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing criminal investigation, said that "at least some of the four Marines are no longer in that battalion," the AP said.
The video--which went viral after being posted to YouTube on Wednesday--appears to show four American Marines urinating on the corpses of three Taliban fighters. (Due to its graphic content, Yahoo has posted an edited version of the posted video from ABC News, which you can see above.)
"Have a nice day, buddy,' one of the alleged U.S. Marines said on the video.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday "condemned the video, describing the men's actions as 'inhuman' and calling for an investigation," Reuters reported.
Panetta called Karzai Thursday to convey his horror at the alleged incident and promise a full investigation, Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
Panetta told Karzai "that the conduct depicted in the footage is utterly deplorable, and that it does not reflect the standards or values American troops are sworn to uphold," Little told journalists in a press readout of the call Thursday. "The Secretary also noted in the conversation that he has ordered that the video be immediately and fully investigated."
Panetta ordered the Marine Corps and the top U.S commander in Afghanistan Gen. John Allen to launch an immediate and full investigation of the alleged incident, which will hold the responsible parties accountable for their conduct.
He was joined in his condemnation by Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain (R-Ariz.), who said the alleged behavior by a few individuals in the video does not represent the honorable conduct and service of hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops.
The video has surfaced at a sensitive moment in U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. American envoys have stepped up their push to broker negotiations that include the Afghan insurgents. Such efforts are aimed at bringing greater political stability to Afghanistan--and thereby allow for the eventual withdrawal of U.S.-led international forces from the country.
Among the possible provisions in the latest diplomatic push are plans for the Taliban to open a quasi-embassy in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar. The United States is also reportedly considering the possible extradition to Afghanistan of five Taliban prisoners now held at the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as a possible confidence building measure.
So far at least, Taliban officials indicated the video controversy wouldn't derail plans for further discussions between the Taliban and American-led coalition forces in Afghanistan.
"We know that our country is occupied," a Taliban spokesman said in a Reuters report Thursday. "This is not a political process, so the video will not harm our talks and prisoner exchange because they are at the preliminary stage."
But a new, secret U.S. intelligence assessment raises doubts about the prospects for success of any negotiations with the Taliban.
According to a report Wednesday by McClatchy News' Jonathan Landay and Nancy Youssef, the new U.S. National Intelligence Estimate assesses that the Afghan insurgents have not abandoned their aspirations for "reclaiming power and reimposing harsh Islamic rule" in Afghanistan, Landay and Youssef wrote.
This post was updated at 3:00 p.m. EST with the AP report that two of the Marines in the video have been identified.
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