The American military said on Saturday that four soldiers would face disciplinary action over the incident, but they would not be prosecuted because their actions were motivated by hygienic concerns.

TV footage recorded on 1 October in southern Afghanistan showed American soldiers setting fire to the bodies and boasting about the act on loudspeakers to taunt fighters suspected to be hiding in a nearby village.

Islam bans cremation, and the video images were compared in Afghanistan by an Islamic cleric and some Afghan students to photographs of US troops abusing prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

"The punishment is very lenient," said Naveed Moez, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry.

"The burning of the bodies is against our Islamic and Afghan traditions. It is totally unacceptable, and it should not be repeated by any means under any circumstances again."

Inquiry
 

Hamid Karzai has ordered his
own inquiry into the incident

After news broke that the bodies were burned, American commanders launched an inquiry and vowed that anyone found guilty would be punished, fearing the incident could undermine public support for the war against an insurgency four years after US-led forces ousted the Taliban.

The US-led coalition's operational commander, Major General Jason Kamiya, told a news conference on Saturday that two junior officers who ordered the bodies burned would be reprimanded for showing a lack of cultural and religious understanding but that the men had been unaware they were doing anything wrong.

The bodies were rapidly decomposing in temperatures of 33 degree Celsius, posing a health risk to the soldiers who intended to stay for up to three days on a hilltop where the bodies were found, the general said.

Geneva Convention

Two noncommissioned officers would be reprimanded for using the burning of the bodies to taunt the rebels, Kamiya said.

"The burning of the bodies is against our Islamic and Afghan traditions. It is totally unacceptable"

Naveed Moez, 
Spokesman, Afghan Foreign Ministry

The two men also would face nonjudicial punishments, which could include a loss of pay or demotion in rank.

He said the military investigation had shown there was no violation of the rules of war.

The Geneva Convention forbids the burning of combatants except for hygienic purposes.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered his own inquiry into the videotape.

That investigation has been completed, but officials say it is not known when its findings will be released.