KABUL, Afghanistan – A team of top Afghan officials was in the country's south Sunday to investigate charges that U.S. soldiers burned the remains of Taliban (search) fighters they had killed and then used the scene for propaganda purposes.
The four investigators were ordered by President Hamid Karzai (search) to work "urgently" amid warnings that the alleged desecration could spark anti-American demonstrations, Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi said.
Cremating bodies is banned by Islam (search), and Muslim clerics in Afghanistan reacted angrily after a video broadcast by Australian television last week purported to show American soldiers burning two dead Taliban fighters. No protests have occurred in Afghanistan, where the footage has not been shown.
Azimi said it wasn't clear how long the investigation would take. "We are waiting for the results and they could come any time," he said.
Asked at a news conference whether the government would push for any U.S. soldiers implicated in the alleged crime to be prosecuted in Afghanistan, Azimi said authorities would leave it to U.S. military courts to bring them to justice.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld also has called for a separate U.S. military investigation to be expedited.
In his first public comments about the matter, Rumsfeld told reporters he was worried by publicity about the allegations, whatever their merit.
"The reality is that charges of that type are harmful," he said. "They don't represent the overwhelmingly positive behavior of the men and women in uniform who do such a wonderful job."
"It's always disappointing when there are charges like that," he added. "It's particularly disappointing when they're true. That needs to be determined, but one hates to see the adverse effect of it, if it is true."
Rumsfeld cited as an example deadly riots in Afghanistan in May that were sparked by a Newsweek report — since retracted — that said U.S. military personnel abused Islam's holy book, the Korran, at the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for suspected terrorists.