The Department of Defense on Wednesday said that the published photographs of U.S. troops posing with the maimed body parts of Afghan insurgents can provoke the enemy to react with violence against U.S. and Afghanistan service members.
The Los Angeles Times published the two-year old photos on Wednesday along with an article detailing what had taken place. The photographs are said to be taken on two separate occasions: when members of the 82nd Airborne Division were sent to identify the remains of a suicide bomber who was killed while trying to plant a roadside bomb, and when they were again sent to investigate the remains of three insurgents who accidentally blew themselves up.
The photographs have led to an investigation into the soldiers' actions.
George Little, acting assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, issued a statement on Wednesday, noting that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta strongly rejects the conduct of the soldiers in the photographs.
These images by no means represent the values or professionalism of the vast majority of U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan today, Little's statement read. An investigation that could lead to disciplinary measures is underway. Anyone found responsible for this inhuman conduct will be held accountable in accordance with our military justice system.
But he also expressed the secretary's disappointment that the Times published the 18 photographs after being asked not to. He said there could be adverse effects.
The danger is that this material could be used by the enemy to incite violence against U.S. and Afghan service members in Afghanistan, Little wrote. U.S. forces in the country are taking security measures to guard against it.
Breakdown In Discipline
The Times reported that it was given the photographs by an American soldier who wanted to bring attention to the safety risk of a breakdown in leadership and discipline. The anonymous soldier who provided the photographs reportedly served in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne's 4th Brigade Combat Team from Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.
After careful consideration, we decided that publishing a small but representative selection of the photos would fulfill our obligation to readers to report vigorously and impartially on all aspects of the American mission in Afghanistan, including the allegation that the images reflect a breakdown in unit discipline that was endangering U.S. troops, Times Editor Davan Maharaj said in the article.
Lt. Col. Margaret Kageleiry, an Army spokeswoman, told the Times that most of the soldiers in the photos have been identified.
A Sensitive Relationship
The U.S. and its NATO allies currently have a sensitive relationship with Afghanistan, which the photographs may further strain. It is not the first time such images of U.S. troops posing with the dead bodies of enemies made headlines.
In January, a video surfaced and circulated online, showing U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of Afghan insurgents. A month later, the inadvertent burning of copies of the Koran at a major NATO airbase triggered a week of riots that left 30 dead, and caused the deaths of six Americans.
In March, a U.S. Army sergeant embarked on a nighttime shooting rampage in two Afghan villages, which killed 17 civilians. Afghan President Hamid Karzai then demanded that foreign soldiers restrain themselves to major bases.
Photographs also surfaced earlier this year, showing U.S. Marines with a Nazi-style SS flag under a U.S. banner in Afghanistan. The Marine Corps. told the media that the sniper team did not realize the significance of the symbol when they took the picture and has said the issue was dealt with internally.