updated 7/3/2004 9:11:25 AM ET 2004-07-03T13:11:25

The U.S. military is investigating a new allegation of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan, a spokesman said Saturday, adding to concern about its secretive jails, where several inmates have died.

Maj. Jon Siepmann would not give details of the allegation, which was reviewed by U.S. officials this week.

“The allegation is characterized as detainee abuse,” Siepmann told reporters, promising “appropriate action” based on the outcome of the investigation.

Deaths in custody
The scandal over the abuse of prisoners in Iraq has drawn new attention to long-standing allegations of mistreatment in Afghanistan.

At least five people have died in custody, and the military recently opened at least two new investigations after former prisoners said they were beaten and sexually abused.

This month, Lt. Gen. David Barno, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is to announce the results of a review of 20 jails across the country.

Officials say the prison program has already been revised as a result of the review, carried out since late May by Brig. Gen. Charles Jacoby, Barno’s deputy operational commander.

The officials have declined to give details, and predicted that interrogation techniques will remain classified.

The international Red Cross regularly visits prisoners at the main jail at Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul, and last week began visiting the next-largest jail in the southern city of Kandahar.

Its reports are not released, and neither Afghanistan’s human rights commission nor the media has been given any access to U.S. holding facilities.

It was unclear when or where the latest alleged abuse took place, or whether it involved any deaths.

Navy investigating
Siepmann wouldn’t comment on who the allegation was aimed at. But he said the Naval Criminal Investigative Service was investigating, which suggests that Marines might have been accused. The Marines are a separate service within the Department of the Navy.

Navy special forces, known as SEALs, have also served in Afghanistan.

Barno commands 20,000 mainly U.S. troops battling remnants of the Taliban regime ousted in late 2001, as well as al-Qaida rebels and supporters of Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

The force includes 2,000 Marines deployed earlier this year to Taliban strongholds in the south. The Marines have spearheaded operations that have killed more than 80 alleged militants since late May.

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