The US military is investigating an online video purportedly showing Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, a spokesman said Wednesday, calling the behavior "disgusting."
The video shows what appears to be four servicemen, dressed in US military uniform, relieving themselves onto three bloodied bodies on the ground, apparently aware that they are being filmed.
"Have a great day, buddy," one of them says.
The Pentagon has not yet verified the video, but spokesman John Kirby told AFP: "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 of the video, which was posted on the Live Leak website.
If authenticated, the images -- which conjure up memories of the detainee abuse inflicted by American soldiers at Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison -- are sure to spark deep anger and resentment in the Muslim world.
A military official who asked not to be named said the helmet and weapon carried by one of the men seems to indicate the four could be members of an elite sniper team.
The official also said such conduct would be punishable under the US code of military justice.
The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a prominent national Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, condemned the alleged desecration of corpses by US Marines.
"If verified as authentic, the video shows behavior that is totally unbecoming of American military personnel and that could ultimately endanger other soldiers and civilians," CAIR said in a statement.
"We trust that this disturbing incident will be promptly investigated in a transparent manner and that appropriate actions will be taken based on the results of that investigation," the statement said.
"Any guilty parties must be punished to the full extent allowed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice and by relevant American laws."
A statement issued by the Pentagon said: "Headquarters Marine Corps has recently been made aware of a video that portrays Marines urinating on what appear to be deceased members of the Taliban.
"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.
"This matter will be fully investigated."
Some 20,000 Marines are deployed in Afghanistan, mostly in Kandahar and Helmand provinces in the south of the war-ravaged country.
The US and Nato have some 130,000 troops fighting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
US and coalition partners in Afghanistan plan to hand over security for the whole of the country to Afghan forces by the end of 2014, allowing the withdrawal of combat forces.
In April 2004, the prison at Abu Ghraib shot to international headlines and became a potent negative symbol of the US occupation to many Iraqis after evidence emerged of detainee abuse by US soldiers at the facility.
Eventually, 11 soldiers were convicted in connection to the abuse, and received punishments ranging from an army discharge to 10 years in prison.
Taliban: Afghan talks won't mean end to fighting
The Taliban's political wing is ready to enter peace talks to end the war in Afghanistan, but the insurgents will in the meantime continue their armed struggle, the group said Thursday.
The militant movement's emailed statement suggests that efforts to bring Afghan factions to the table are gathering momentum, but also highlights some of the roadblocks on the way to any settlement _ in particular, the Taliban's insistence that the government of President Hamid Karzai is an illegitimate ``stooge'' of the West.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the militants had been fighting for the past 15 years to establish an Islamic government in Afghanistan ``in accordance with the request of its people.''
``It is for this purpose and for bringing about peace and stability in Afghanistan that we have increased our political efforts to come to mutual understanding with the world in order to solve the current ongoing situation,'' Mujahid said in an emailed statement.
``But this understanding does not mean a surrender from jihad and neither is it connected to an acceptance of the constitution of the stooge Kabul administration.''
One of the international community's and Afghan government's conditions for reconciliation is that the Taliban must accept the Afghan constitution, meaning they must recognize Karzai's government. Mujahid's outright rejection of this is likely to be a key obstacle in the peace process.
For the past month, rumors have swirled about the possibility of peace talks between the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan and the Taliban in the Gulf nation of Qatar.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared to acknowledge U.S. efforts to jump-start a peace process with the Islamic militants in order to help bring an end to the decade-long war. Washington has been mulling releasing several Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo as a confidence-building measure.
Clinton also indicated progress on the related effort to open a political representative office for the Taliban in Qatar, whose role as would-be host for peace talks gained reluctant approval from President Karzai last month.
But she said that any power-sharing deal would also have to involve insurgents renouncing violence, breaking with al-Qaida and respecting Afghanistan's constitution, including rights guaranteed to women and minorities.
The United States and its coalition allies are preparing to withdraw most of their forces and end their combat role in 2014, when responsibility for security will be in the hands of the greatly expanded Afghan army and police.
But despite a surge of foreign troops into Afghanistan in the past two years, and an overwhelming superiority in both numbers and firepower, the military effort has been unable to defeat the insurgency. Many now fear that a resurgent Taliban will be able to exploit the withdrawal of the 130,000-strong Nato-led force over the next three years by recapturing wide areas of the south and east.
As a result, the Obama administration and its allies appear to have gradually embraced talks as the best way to end the war, even if fighting continues beyond the deadline to withdraw foreign combat forces in 2014. Although the U.S. says those talks must be led by the Karzai government, it has made its own contacts with Taliban representatives over the last year.
Unlike those earlier exploratory discussions, any negotiations that might take place in Qatar will likely be aimed at drawing the Taliban movement formally into the political process.
The Nato force in Afghanistan meanwhile said a service member died in eastern Afghanistan from a ``non-battle-related'' injury Wednesday. A statement from the coalition did not give details or provide the service member's nationality.
The death brought to 12 the number of international troops killed this month in the country.