U.S. Marines video: How not to win hearts and minds

The actions of four U.S. Marines caught on video laughing and urinating on Afghan bodies have been condemned by the United States, NATO, and the government of Afghanistan. Globe and Mail correspondent Paul Koring examines the potential consequences of the scandal (“Obama’s ‘hearts and minds’ effort hurt by surfacing of ‘deplorable’ video,” Globe and Mail, 12 January 2012):

The revelation of what many will see as desecration of corpses came amid signs that the Obama administration is gaining traction with its diplomatic outreach to the Taliban.

“With respect to the implications of this, the United States remains strongly committed to helping build a secure, peaceful, prosperous, democratic future for the people of Afghanistan,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

She had earlier confirmed the possibility of releasing Taliban detainees held in Guantanamo, a long-standing Taliban demand, in order to kick-start talks once the Afghan insurgents follow through on their proposal to open an office in Qatar.

The Taliban reaction out of Afghanistan was muted. “This is not the first time we see such brutality,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters. He added that “the video will not harm our talks and prisoner exchange.”

But Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who led the outpouring of Afghan outrage and is ambivalent about U.S.-led talks with the Taliban, may use the incident to delay talks.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is to lead the inquiry into the Marines’ potential violations of U.S. law and the international laws of war. The Marine Corps will also conduct its own investigation. All four of the Marines involved have already been identified.

Despite promises to hold those responsible accountable, Robert Burns with TIME explains that the incident could still sour U.S. relations with the Afghan government (“Despite Video, No Halt to Peace Talk Moves,TIME, 13 January 2012):

The incident will likely further hurt ties with Karzai’s government and complicate negotiations over a strategic partnership arrangement meant to govern the presence of U.S. troops and advisers in Afghanistan after most international combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014.

The article also notes averse reaction to the video among Afghan civilians:

“If these actions continue, people will not like them (the Americans) anymore and there will be uprising against them,” Mohammad Qayum, said while watching a television news story about the video that was airing in a local restaurant in Kabul.

David Pugliese, the Ottawa Citizen‘s defence reporter, echoes these concerns (“Urinate on Some Afghan Corpses and Other Tips on How Not to Win the Information Operations Battle,” Defence Watch, Ottawa Citizen blog, 12 January 2012):

Various posts have been put on websites reporting the news of this issue, many of them congratulating the Marines for their actions or noting that the “Taliban do worse” so urinating on the bodies is okay.

Others, however, have noted the opposite. They point out that the Marines who filmed themselves urinating on the bodies just handed an “Information Operations” victory to insurgent forces. Great PR footage for years to come to inspire Jihad, they argue.

Tags: Afghanistan, Marines, NATO, Taliban, United States, Video