KABUL (Reuters) - Taliban fighters in Afghanistan have been enraged by a video which shows U.S. marines urinating on three corpses, believed to be insurgents, and some say they do not understand their leadership’s relatively measured response to the tape.
News of the clip spread fast across Afghanistan, even though only a minority of people have electricity and the internet is restricted to a tiny urban elite.
Radio can reach remote militants and villagers and mobile phones are used by many Afghans, on both sides of the war, for storing and sharing videos even in remote areas with little communications infrastructure.
“I heard from some friends about this shameful act of the U.S. forces but could not see it at first,” said one militant who called himself Qari Babar, explaining that a Pashto-language radio broadcast first alerted him to the tape’s existence.
The video, posted on YouTube and other websites, shows four Marines in camouflage combat uniforms urinating on three corpses. One of them jokes: “Have a nice day, buddy.” Another makes a lewd joke.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has condemned the video, describing the men’s actions as “inhuman” and calling for an investigation. U.S. and NATO military commanders condemned the actions of the men, and Pentagon has acted quickly to respond to the video, in a bid to limit the fallout.
Although a Taliban spokesman criticized it last week, he said it would not harm nascent efforts to broker peace talks.
For some insurgents, their leadership’s muted response to the Marines’ actions was unwelcome, particularly after reports the Taliban had agreed to open a political office in Qatar to ease possible negotiation with the United States and allies.
“Our leaders overlooked this degrading and inhumane act of American soldiers because they are interested in peace talks,” said Mullah Mohammad Gul, a local Taliban commander in southern Helmand province, where the video is believed to have been made.
“Our duty is to defend our sacred religion and our people and we will keep fighting, no matter what.”
Insurgent fighters in other parts of the country said the video could undermine discipline and push foot soldiers to ignore orders from higher ranked fighters.
“Until now, we were following guidelines and principles laid down by our senior commanders for us to follow while fighting,” said Babar, active in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province.
Young insurgents might ignore orders in future, he added.
U.S. General John Allen, who commands international troops in Afghanistan, accused the Taliban’s one-eyed leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, this week of having “lost all control” of his frontline fighters after several suicide bombings in the restive south killed almost 20 people, mostly civilians.
Babar said he watched the video with around 70 fighters, and said it shocked them even though previous cases of abuse by foreign soldiers in Afghanistan, including the murder of innocent civilians, had been well publicized.
“Every one is now desperately trying to find U.S. soldiers to take revenge for the desecration of the bodies,” he added.
Several commanders also thought the Marines’ actions would also help bolster the group’s standing with the rural Afghans they fight among.
“It helps us to win the support and sympathy of the Afghan people,” Abdul Basit, who fights in eastern Khost province where insurgents have a strong presence, told Reuters.
“You see now the entire nation, even so many people in the government and armed forces, have turned against them because of the atrocities,” Basit said.
Basit added that they had been advised by their leaders not to kill their prisoners and spies but after seeing the video, many of them might not control themselves in future.
In the southern town of Marjah, a part of Helmand that has seen heavy fighting and was the centre of a U.S.-led campaign to displace the Taliban in early 2010, another commander agreed.
“It is good that such video has emerged which showed Americans’ inhumane acts,” Mullah Abdullah told Reuters by satellite phone. He disagreed it would sap discipline, and instead saw a groundswell of greater support.
“From now on, hate against the foreign troops will grow in the hearts of every Muslim, especially in Afghanistan.”
Additional reporting by Jibran Ahmad in PESHAWAR, writing by Emma Graham-Harrison