VILNIUS, Oct 22: Accusations that US soldiers had burned the corpses of two Afghan guerillas to taunt the Taliban have damaged the American military, whether or not they are true, Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld said on Saturday.

Mr Rumsfeld told reporters aboard a plane to Lithuania, where he will attend a NATO meeting, that he had not seen video footage showing the alleged incident in the southern province of Kandahar and did not know if the accusations were true.

But he added: “One hates to see the adverse effect of it if it is true. You also recognize the damage that can be done by the allegations alone if they are not true.”

The US military — already under fire for the abuse of detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq and the mishandling of the Holy Quran in Guantanamo Bay — has ordered an inquiry into the footage shown on Australian television.

The television report quoted the US soldiers as saying they burned the bodies for reasons of hygiene.

After the burning, according to the TV report, a US psychological operations unit broadcast a propaganda message on loudspeakers to a nearby village thought to harbour Taliban fighters, taunting them to retrieve their dead and fight.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has condemned the incident and asked for a speedy investigation.—Reuters

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