US soldiers posed with the mangled bodies of suspected Afghan suicide bombers in graphic photos published Wednesday, prompting swift condemnation from US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Panetta, who was in Brussels for a NATO meeting, said through a spokesman that the photos published in the Los Angeles Times do not reflect the "values or professionalism" of America's fighting forces in Afghanistan.
"Secretary Panetta strongly rejects the conduct depicted in these two-year-old photographs," Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement.
"These images by no means represent the values or professionalism of the vast majority of US troops serving in Afghanistan today," he said, adding that the Pentagon has opened an investigation that could lead to disciplinary measures.
"Anyone found responsible for this inhuman conduct will be held accountable in accordance with our military justice system," Little said.
He also expressed the US defense chief's disappointment that the LA Times ignored a Pentagon request to refrain from publishing the pictures, which reportedly were obtained from a soldier in the division.
"The danger is that this material could be used by the enemy to incite violence against US and Afghan service members in Afghanistan. US forces in the country are taking security measures to guard against it," the spokesman said.
General John Allen, commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, also condemned the photos.
"The actions of the individuals photographed do not represent the policies of ISAF (NATO's International Security Assistance Force) or the US Army," said Allen.
"We continue to work with our Afghan and international partners to resolve any issues related to improper treatment of remains. This incident is being thoroughly investigated by US national authorities," he said.
The unsettling images, which appear on the Times' website, showed troops posing in one image with a severed hand and in another with disembodied legs, are the latest in a series of scandals that has strained US-Afghan ties.
The Times reported that the images were taken during more than one occasion over the course of 2010.
The first incident took place in February 2010, when paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division were sent to an Afghan police station in Zabul province to inspect the remains of an alleged suicide bomber.
The soldiers had intended to try to get fingerprints and possibly scan the irises of the corpse, but instead they posed for pictures next to the Afghan police, holding up or squatting beside the remains, the newspaper said.
A few months later, the same platoon went to inspect the remains of three insurgents whom Afghan police said had blown themselves up by accident.
Two soldiers posed holding up one of the dead men's hands with the middle finger raised, while another leaned over the bearded corpse, the newspaper reported.
Another soldier apparently placed an unofficial platoon patch reading "Zombie Hunter" next to the other remains and took a picture.
LA Times editor Davan Maharaj said that the newspaper decided to publish a "small but representative selection" of the images because of their news value and to "fulfill our obligation to readers to report vigorously and impartially on all aspects of the American mission in Afghanistan."
The incident seemed likely to test already tense US-Afghan relations, after a series of incidents in which US troops have been accused of misconduct.
The release in January of video clips online showing American marines urinating on the bodies of Afghan combatants sparked outrage in Kabul.
That was followed by the inadvertent burning of Korans by US soldiers in mid-February, which triggered deadly anti-US protests and may have motivated a surge of "insider" attacks on NATO troops by Afghan forces.
In March, a US soldier allegedly went on a shooting rampage in two Afghan villages, killing 17 people -- mostly women and children -- in what is believed to be the deadliest war crime by a NATO soldier in the decade-long conflict.
NATO has a 130,000-strong US-led military force fighting the Islamist Taliban, which has led an insurgency against the Western-backed Kabul government since being toppled from power in 2001.
The United States plans to gradually draw down combat troops from the middle of next year before handing over control to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014 as agreed by the NATO alliance.
by Laurent Thomet Â© 2012 AFP
Date: Apr 18, 2012