U.S. military charges two soldiers over alleged assault in Afghanistan

Two U.S. soldiers have been charged with assault for allegedly punching two detainees in the chest, shoulders and stomach at a military base in Afghanistan, the military said Monday.

The announcement came a week and a half 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 on detainees occurred at a base in southern Uruzgan province in early July, U.S. military spokesman Col. James Yonts 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.

The military launched an investigation into the alleged abuse after a U.S. soldier learned about it and notified his commanders, Yonts told reporters at a press conference.

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, another military spokesman, Lt. Col. Jerry 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.

Two Afghan government spokesmen declined to comment on the matter, deferring inquiries to the president's office, but senior officials there were not immediately available to speak.

The last claims 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, reports the AP. I.L.