U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is promising an investigation, after an American newspaper published photos of U.S. soldiers holding what appear to be the body parts of an Afghan insurgent.
U.S. military officials believe the photos could provoke attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the Pentagon tried to get the newspaper, the Los Angeles Times [Warning: graphic images], not to publish them.
The photos, apparently taken in 2010, show a number of U.S. soldiers holding what appear to be the dismembered legs of at least one Afghan insurgent bomber. Posing with the Americans are Afghan men wearing uniforms typical of the Afghan national security forces.
A U.S. newspaper's publication of photographs showing U.S. soldiers posing with the remains of suicide bombers comes at a sensitive moment in U.S.-Afghan ties. Several other incidents have also sparked discord:
- March 11, 2012: U.S. Army sergeant allegedly goes on an early morning shooting rampage in two Afghan villages, killing 17 civilians.
- February 20, 2012: U.S. soldiers inadvertently burn copies of the Quran, said to be filled with extremist messages, in a landfill at the U.S. Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan. The burning sparks days of deadly anti-American protests across the country, leaving more than 30 Afghans and American soldiers dead.
- January 11, 2012: A video surfaces on the Internet showing what appears to be four U.S. Marines urinating on the bodies of three suspected Taliban fighters. In the less than minute-long video, a soldier is heard saying, "Have a great day, buddy."
- May 4, 2009: The Afghan government says a U.S. airstrike targeting Taliban insurgents in western Afghanistan kills at least 140 civilians, including many children.
- July 6, 2008: A U.S. airstrike thought be targeting insurgents hits a caravan of Afghan civilians traveling to a wedding. The attack kills 47 people, including 39 women and children.
Reports say the body parts are those of one or more suicide bombers.
Once the newspaper went ahead and published the pictures, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta - in Brussels for a NATO conference - issued a condemnation. “That behavior that was depicted in those photos absolutely violates both our regulations and more importantly our core values," he said.
Panetta said the Pentagon asked the newspaper not to publish the photos. “The reason for that is those kinds of photos are used by the enemy to incite violence and lives have been lost as a result of the publication of similar photos in the past. We regret that they were published," he said.
Panetta said an investigation is under way and promised the individuals responsible will be held accountable for the photos, which U.S. officials are concerned will further damage relations with the Afghans. “This is war. And I know that war is ugly and it is violent and I know that young people sometimes caught up in the moment make foolish decisions. I am not excusing that behavior, but neither do I want these images to bring further injury to our people or relationship with the Afghan people," he said.
That relationship has been strained by several incidents of misconduct by U.S. service members in Afghanistan.
Earlier this year, photos circulated on the Internet showing U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of Afghan insurgents. Later, riots broke out after service members inadvertently burned pages of the Quran that had been thrown out as trash. Last month, 17 Afghan villagers were killed when a U.S. soldier allegedly left his base and opened fire in two villages.
Last year, members of a U.S. army unit were convicted of murder after killing innocent villagers, posing for pictures with Afghans’ bodies, and keeping their body parts as trophies.
Video footage from NATO press conference