WASHINGTON -- Australian television aired video yesterday showing US soldiers in Afghanistan allegedly burning two dead Taliban fighters and using the charred bodies in an attempt to taunt other enemy forces in the area.
According to an Australian photojournalist who reportedly witnessed the event, the Taliban bodies were intentionally laid out on the ground to face Mecca, part of what the broadcast described as a deliberate desecration of Muslim beliefs. Two US soldiers, said to be specialists in psychological operations, were pictured reciting propaganda messages aimed at Taliban fighters in surrounding mountains, calling them too ''cowardly" to retrieve the bodies.
The broadcast prompted the US military to order an immediate criminal investigation. Central Command, which oversees US military operations in the region, issued a statement decrying any desecration of enemy combatants as contrary to US policy and the Geneva Conventions.
''This command does not condone the mistreatment of enemy combatants or the desecration of their religious and cultural beliefs," Major General Jason Kamiya, the top US tactical commander in Afghanistan, said in a separate statement. ''This alleged action is repugnant to our common values, is contrary to our command's approved tactical operating procedures, and is not sanctioned by this command."
At the Pentagon, several officials expressed concern privately that the alleged incident could trigger violent protests in Afghanistan and elsewhere similar to the riots that erupted in May after a Newsweek report, later retracted, said guards at the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had flushed a Koran down a toilet.
The images, broadcast on the Australian program ''Dateline," were said to have been shot early this month by Stephen DuPont while he was traveling with an unidentified US military unit in in southern Afghanistan.
John Martinkus, a ''Dateline" journalist who narrated the broadcast, said the two men whose bodies were burned had been killed the night before by US soldiers during a fight near the village of Gonbaz.