The Los Angeles Times released a series of photographs Wednesday depicting U.S. Army personnel posing with the corpses of Afghan suicide bombers.
Defense Department Press Secretary George Little followed up the release with a statement confirming the Pentagon's disappointment in the behavior and the opening of an investigation.
The 18 pictures were taken by members of the 82nd Airborne over the course of a few months in 2010 and were given to the L.A. times by a paratrooper who wished to remain anonymous.
The soldier in question released the photographs in the hopes that "publication would help ensure that alleged security shortcomings at two U.S. bases in Afghanistan in 2010 were not repeated," the Times reported.
He said the incidents pointed to a leadership and discipline breakdown dangerous to troops serving there.
The first group of photos was taken in January 2010, when the 82 Airborne received an assignment to document the vital statistics - iris scans, fingerprints - of the remains of a suicide bomber in Afghanistan's Zabol province.
Once the information was gathered, members of the platoon took mocking pictures with the remains, laughing and holding up the body's legs, which were severed in an IED blast.
The second tranche of photos show members of the same platoon posing with the remains of three other Afghan suicide bombers. One man holds up the middle finger of a severed hand and the other proudly displays a "Zombie Hunter" patch.
Little released a statement to the press indicating that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta strongly rejected the behavior depicted in the photographs.
"An investigation that could lead to disciplinary measures is underway," Little said. "Anyone found responsible for this inhuman conduct will be held accountable in accordance with our military justice system."
However, Little also criticized the L.A. Times for publish the photographs, which he said "could be used by the enemy to incite violence against U.S. and Afghan service members in Afghanistan."
Both the L.A. Times and the Defense Department confirmed that the military requested the photos not be released.
The release comes during a particularly sensitive time for the U.S. military's image in Afghanistan. No less than three major scandals have occurred there this year involving locals, including the release of pictures showing soldiers urinating on the bodies of Taliban fighters in January and the accidental burnings of copies of the Muslim holy book, the Quran, in February.
Relations hit a new low in March, when Staff Sgt. Robert Bales was charged with the murder of 17 Afghan civilians while on tour in the country's south.
In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai's spokesman declined to comment on the L.A. Times pictures. In March, Karzai reacted angrily to the Bales incident, calling for U.S. troops to be pulled away from villages in an effort to reduce civilian deaths.
The release of the photos also comes the same week as diplomatic and military officials from the U.S. and NATO meet to finalize the plan to hand over full combat responsibility to Afghan security forces. The meetings will also inevitably deal with this most recent release and how to minimize backlash.
Both U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker and ISAF Commander John R. Allen released statements condemning the incidents depicted in the pictures.
"The actions of the individuals photographed do not represent the policies of International Security Assistance Force or the U.S. Army," the statement read.
Crocker's statement added, "Such actions are morally repugnant, dishonor the sacrifices of hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers and civilians who have served with distinction in Afghanistan, and do not represent the core values of the United States or our military."
by RTT Staff Writer
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