Two U.S. soldiers charged over alleged assault in Afghanistan

The U.S. military said Sunday it has charged two soldiers with assault for allegedly punching two detainees in the chest, shoulders and stomach while they were held at a military base in Afghanistan.

The announcement comes just 10 days after the military launched an investigation into television footage purportedly showing a group of U.S. soldiers burning the bodies of two dead Taliban rebels.

The alleged assault occurred at a base in southern Uruzgan province in early July, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara said. Neither detainee required medical attention, a military statement said.

The charges include conspiracy to maltreat, assault, and dereliction of duty. The allegations, if substantiated, could lead to disciplinary action, the statement said.

"The command remains committed to investigate all allegations of misconduct and will hold individuals responsible for their actions consistent with U.S. military law," Brig. Gen. Jack Sterling, a deputy coalition commander, was quoted as saying.

One of the two detainees has since been released, while the other is being held at Bagram, the U.S. military's headquarters in Afghanistan, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of the capital, Kabul, O'Hara said.

He said the two soldiers were still in Afghanistan "performing their primary duties, but they have nothing to do with detained individuals."

O'Hara said military regulations prevented him from identifying the two detainees or elaborating on why they were detained.

It was not immediately clear if the latest abuse allegation would cause an outcry here. Mistreatment of detainees by Afghan police and Afghan prison guards is not unusual, according to human rights advocates.

News of the alleged assault broke late Sunday and attempts to reach Afghan government officials for comment were not successful.

The last allegation of military abuse here, the alleged burning of the two Taliban bodies on Oct. 1, was condemned by President Hamid Karzai. The government ordered an immediate independent inquiry and called for the perpetrators to be severely punished if found guilty.

Cremation of corpses is banned in Islam. Some Muslim clerics warned of a possible violent anti-American backlash after news of the alleged desecration broke, but so far there have no demonstrations.

This may be partially because the video of the alleged act has not been broadcast here and also because the bodies that were allegedly burned were those of two members of the Taliban, a rebel group accused of committing widespread abuses itself.

Sunday's allegations are not the first of alleged abuse of military detainees in Afghanistan.

In 2002, two Afghans held at Bagram died after being beaten. Fifteen soldiers have faced charges for those deaths. A year later, another Afghan died while being held at a base in southern Helmand province, according to an autopsy report provided by the Defense Department, AP reported. V.A.

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