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Afghan clerics voice anger over a report alleging US burning of Taliban bodies

(Correction: Because of an error by the Washington Post, a story in some editions of Friday's Globe about reports of US soldiers burning the bodies of two Taliban fighters in Afghanistan referred to an Army spokesman, Jim Yonts, as a lieutenant colonel. Yonts is an Army colonel.)

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Islamic clerics expressed outrage yesterday at television footage that purportedly shows US soldiers burning the bodies of two dead Taliban fighters to taunt other militants. The clericswarned of a possible violent anti-American backlash.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the alleged desecration, and ordered an inquiry. Major General Jason Kamiya, the operational commander of the US military in Afghanistan, which launched its own inquiry, said the purported act, if true, was ''repugnant."

The State Department said it instructed US embassies around the globe to tell local governments that the reported abuse did not reflect American values.

Cremating bodies is banned under Islam, and one Muslim leader in Afghanistan compared the video to photographs of US troops abusing prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

''Abu Ghraib ruined the reputation of the Americans in Iraq, and to me this is even worse," said Faiz Mohammed, a top cleric in northern Kunduz province.

''This is against Islam," Mohammed said. ''Afghans will be shocked by this news. It is so humiliating. There will be very, very dangerous consequences."

Anger also was evident in the streets.

''If they continue to carry out such actions against us, our people will change their policy and react with the same policy against them," said Mehrajuddin, a resident of Kabul, who, like many Afghans, uses only one name.

Another man in the capital, Zahidullah, said the reported abuse was like atrocities by Soviet troops, who were driven out of Afghanistan in 1989 after a decade of occupation. He warned that the same could happen to US forces.

''Their future will be like the Russians," Zahidullah said.

In Washington, the US government also condemned the alleged burning.

The allegation was ''very serious" and ''very troubling," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. He commented after the department said US embassies had been told to inform foreigners that abuse of remains ''is not reflective of our values."

The move suggested US worries about an anti-American uproar, such as Afghan riots in May that erupted after Newsweek said US soldiers at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility had desecrated the Koran, Islam's holy book. Newsweek retracted the story.

Australia's SBS television network broadcast the video purportedly showing soldiers burning the bodies of two suspected Taliban fighters outside the village of Gonbaz, in the southern Shah Wali Kot district. That area has been plagued by Taliban activity, and is considered by local forces as too dangerous to venture into unless accompanied by US troops.

The network said the video had been taken by a freelance journalist, Stephen Dupont. Dupont, who said in an interview that he was embedded with the Army's 173d Airborne Brigade, said the bodies were burned on Oct. 1.

He told SBS that soldiers in a US Army psychological operations unit had broadcast messages targeting Taliban fighters. ''They deliberately wanted to incite that much anger from the Taliban so the Taliban could attack them. . . . That's the only way they can find them," Dupont said.

According to a transcript released by SBS, the messages called the Taliban ''cowardly dogs."

''You are too scared to come down and retrieve their bodies," one message said, according to the transcript.

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