The Ministry of Defence has launched an urgent investigation after a video emerged via social media that shows members of the parachute regiment firing at a poster of at a target range in Kabul.
MoD insiders said they believed the video – which had the caption “happy with that” – was genuine, but inquiries were taking place to establish why an image of the leader, studded with bullet marks, was used.
The video shows four soldiers, clearly identifiable as members of the 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, stationed in , using simulation weapons.
Brig Nick Perry, the commander of 6th Air Assault Brigade, acknowledged the video showed a “serious error of judgment” that was “being fully investigated”. He added: “The army is, and always will be, a totally apolitical organisation.”
Corbyn said: “I’m shocked, obviously, that this sort of thing has happened. I hope the Ministry of Defence will conduct an inquiry into it and find out what was going on and who did that.”
Referring to the current hostile atmosphere in British politics, the Labour leader said: “Yes, people have disagreements and yes, people have divisions. Conduct those divisions and disagreements in a respectful way. Don’t descend into something ugly and violent.”
Labour’s defence spokeswoman, Nia Griffith, wrote to her opposite number, Gavin Williamson, asking him to “condemn the footage immediately”, which she said came at a time when MPs “face an unprecedented level of threat to their personal safety”.
Williamson did not reply immediately, but instead tweeted: “I commend the prompt and clear leadership shown by the army in investigating this troubling video.” Allies said he would wait until the investigation concluded before commenting further.
Labour sources highlighted that Corbyn and other Labour figures have been targeted in recent weeks and months, while the party pressure group Momentum said it reflected the “radicalising effect the rightwing press is having”.
A Brexit supporter who hit Corbyn, assaulting him outside a mosque in north London, was jailed for 28 days last month.
The video, which is thought to date back only a few days, was shared on Snapchat among a smaller group, but subsequently leaked overnight via Twitter, prompting the MoD to take action.
The blue shade of the guns in the video identifies them as simulation weapons, which are commonly used in target practice. They fire a hardened wax pellet said to be “10 times harder than you would feel in paintball”, but MoD insiders stressed they could not be described as live ammunition.
Theresa May’s spokesman said: “This is clearly unacceptable. The MoD are now conducting a full investigation.” He said the prime minister was aware of the video’s content but had not seen it.
Corbyn met with May on Wednesday afternoon for talks about , with speculation that the Labour leader could strike a deal with the prime minister over the handling of the ongoing crisis.
It is not the first time soldiers have been embroiled in a political row in recent months. An investigation was conducted in the autumn after Tommy Robinson, the far-right activist, posted an image of himself surrounded by a group of grinning trainee soldiers.
A former British soldier, Trevor Coult, who was among those who circulated the Corbyn target video, later claimed it was fake. Coult, who has written about his experiences in Afghanistan, shared the video on Twitter with the message: “Not looking good for a Labour leader.”
After it prompted criticism, he claimed the .
Users of the Army Rumour Service, which describes itself as “the British army’s busiest and best online community”, expressed sympathy for the paras shown in the video in anonymous comments.
“Shame it wasn’t him in person!” said one post under the username ex_colonial, under an long online thread criticising the Labour leader.
Another said: “It’s just squaddies doing what squaddies do. Nothing new. The only difference now is it gets filmed and posted on social media.”