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Video of Marines has not stifled Afghan peace progress

KABUL, Afghanistan — A 39-second video purporting to show Marines urinating on dead bodies in Afghanistan is straining U.S.-Afghan relations but is not expected to undo months of work aimed at brokering peace with the Taliban.

The images have not sparked widespread anti-U.S. protests, and Afghan officials say one battlefield abuse cannot derail the peace process, which has gained momentum in recent months with news that the Taliban will open a political office in Qatar.

U.S. military officials have sternly condemned the alleged acts of four Marines who appear to be desecrating the bodies of three men lying in the dirt. On the video, which appeared on YouTube on Wednesday, one of the men looks down at the bodies and gleefully quips, "Have a good day, buddy."

The video emerged at a delicate time in relations among the United States, Afghanistan's elected government and the Taliban insurgency. The U.S. is trying to foster peace talks between President Hamid Karzai's government and the Taliban. Recent statements by senior U.S. and Taliban officials suggest the possibility of some trust-building measures in the near future, such as the opening of the Taliban office and the transfer of some Taliban detainees out of the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Relations with Karzai have been shaky, and the two nations have yet to sign a long-term partnership agreement that will govern the presence of U.S. troops in the country after 2014 when most foreign troops will have gone home or moved into support roles.

Initially there were concerns that outrage over the issue would spiral into a scandal like the one in 2004 over the release of photos showing a group of U.S. military police abusing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who has promised an exhaustive investigation, expressed concern that the fragile peace effort could be jeopardized by the images that he described as "utterly deplorable."

"Reconciliation is a big change for the people of Afghanistan and it won't be affected by the actions of individuals like those in the video," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told the Associated Press on Friday. "We are focused on the bigger picture and for that, we have to avoid small things."

Video of Marines has not stifled Afghan peace progress 01/14/12 [Last modified: Saturday, January 14, 2012 10:43pm]
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