WASHINGTON (AP) — Pentagon officials worry that outrage over a video purporting to depict Marines urinating on Taliban corpses will tarnish the reputation of the entire military. Some also fear it could undermine prospects for exploratory Afghan peace talks.

After roundly condemning the Marines’ alleged behavior, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and top military leaders on Thursday promised a full investigation and sought to contain the damage at home and abroad.

Panetta also said the incident could endanger the prospects for peace talks, although the Obama administration and the Taliban each voiced readiness Thursday to try peace talks while pledging to carry on the military conflict until their rival objectives are met. The separate statements by senior American and Taliban officials illustrated the improved environment for Afghan reconciliation efforts as well as the daunting task ahead.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the law enforcement arm of the Navy, is heading the main inquiry, which is expected to weigh evidence of violations of the U.S. military legal code as well as the international laws of warfare. Separately, the Marine Corps is doing its own internal investigation.

By Thursday evening, the NCIS had interviewed two of the four Marines appearing in the video. At the time they were filmed urinating on the bodies, the four were members of the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, which fought in the southern Afghan province of Helmand for seven months before returning to their home base at Camp Lejeune, N.C., last September.

Two of the four, plus the commander of the battalion, had moved on to other assignments before the video appeared on the Internet, according to Marine Corps officials who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss an active investigation.

Even Thursday’s emergence of the Internet video depicting Marines urinating on what appear to be Afghan corpses didn’t seem to immediately set back movement toward exploratory negotiations with the Taliban. Asked about possible implications for peace talks, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. remained strongly committed to supporting Afghan efforts.

Panetta, however, said the incident could endanger the talks.

“The danger is that this kind of video can be misused in many ways to undermine what we are trying to do in Afghanistan and the possibility of reconciliation,” Panetta said at Fort Bliss, Texas, adding it’s important for the U.S. to move quickly to “send a clear signal to the world that the U.S. will not tolerate this kind of behavior and that is not what the U.S. is all about.”

Before he left Washington for his troop visit to Fort Bliss, Panetta called President Hamid Karzai to promise a full investigation of the video affair and condemned the Marines’ behavior as “entirely inappropriate.”



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