WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military said on Monday it was disciplining U.S. troops over two incidents that provoked outrage in Afghanistan early this year, one involving a video depicting Marines urinating on corpses and another over burned copies of the Koran.
The administrative punishments — which could include things like reduce rank or forfeiture of pay — fell short of criminal prosecution, and it was unclear whether they would satisfy Afghan demands for justice.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai earlier this year branded the Marine’s actions in the video as “inhuman,” and he initially called for a public trial for the soldiers over the Koran incident.
A detailed U.S. military investigation showed that up to 100 Korans and other religious texts from a detention center library — a previously undisclosed figure — were burned on February 20. The investigation found that warnings from Afghans, including a Afghan soldier, had been ignored and attributed the incident in part to distrust between Americans and Afghans.
“However, I absolutely reject any suggestion that those involved acted with any malicious intent to disrespect the Koran or defame the faith of Islam,” the investigating officer, Brigadier General Bryan Watson, wrote.
The question of distrust between American troops and Afghans has come into sharp focus in recent weeks due to a surge of “insider attacks,” in which Afghans believed to be friendly turn their guns against U.S. forces.
Such distrust has undermined confidence in a U.S. drawdown strategy that relies on training Afghan forces — sometimes with very small numbers of Americans partnering with them in remote locations — so they can take over security. Most U.S. combat troops are expected to leave the country by the end of 2014.
The Koran-burning incident touched off several days of rioting and attacks on U.S. troops after local workers found charred copies among the trash at an incinerator at the Bagram base north of Kabul.
At least 30 people died in the violence that spread across the country after the incident, and two American officers were shot dead in a secure area of the Afghan interior ministry, a crime that remains unsolved.
The U.S. Army announced on Monday that six soldiers received administrative punishments over the incident, four of them officers and two of the non-commissioned officers, a spokesman said.
The investigation found that the texts were removed during a sweep of the library at Parwan detention facility due to concerns that detainees were using books to pass messages.
It partly blamed a translator who warned that up to 75 percent of the books were extremist in nature, including versions of the Koran, but did not instruct American forces how to properly dispose of the texts.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he believed the translator was an Afghan and that he no longer worked for the U.S. military.
The disclosures about the Koran-burning incident came the same day the Marine Corps detailed its punishment over a video that surfaced on the Internet in January. It showed Marines urinating on the corpses of dead Taliban fighters. One can be heard saying, “Have a nice day, buddy.”
The investigation showed that the incident actually took place on or around July 27, 2011, during a counter-insurgency operation in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
Three Marines pleaded guilty to charges over the video, including one for “urinating on the body of a deceased Taliban soldier.” Another wrongfully posed for a photo with human casualties, and the third lied about the incident to investigators.
Their identities were not disclosed, and the Marines said disciplinary actions against additional Marines would be announced at a later date.
Possible punishment includes reduction in rank, forfeiture of pay and punitive letters permanently placed in their records, the Marines said.
Editing by Jackie Frank and Philip Barbara