19 Apr 2012

US soldiers pose with remains of suicide bombers

9:00 am on 19 April 2012

Senior United States officials and the commander of international forces in Afghanistan have strongly condemned the actions of US soldiers who posed with the remains of suicide bombers.

Photographs of the men posing with mangled remains, taken by a US paratrooper in 2010, have been published by the Los Angeles Times newspaper.

The spokesperson for US defence secretary Leon Panetta, George Little, has pledged that the perpetrators will be punished.

"Secretary Panetta strongly rejects the conduct depicted in these two-year-old photographs," Mr Little says. "These images by no means represent the values or professionalism of the vast majority of US troops serving in Afghanistan today."

The commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, John Allen, has also condemned the actions of the soldiers, while the US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, has called the photos "morally repugnant".

Decision to publish defended

The pictures published in the Los Angeles Times apparently show soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division posing with remains of suspected suicide bombers in Afghanistan's eastern Zabul province.

Some are grinning next to the bodies, while others are holding a corpse's severed legs.

Another set of photos - from a few months later - apparently shows soldiers from the same division holding a dead man's hand with the middle finger raised.

The newspaper says a US soldier gave it the pictures in order to "draw attention to the safety risk of a breakdown in leadership and discipline" among American troops.

Defending the decision to publish, despite a prior request from the US military not to do so, editor Davan Maharaj says it was decided that "publishing a small but representative selection of the photos would fulfil our obligation to readers to report vigorously and impartially on all aspects of the American mission in Afghanistan".

Slew of negative publicity for US

The publication of the photos come at a particularly sensitive time for US-Afghan relations, the BBC reports, with the Americans on the back foot after a slew of negative publicity in recent months in Afghanistan.

Last month, a US soldier was charged with the murders of 17 Afghan civilians - including nine children - in the southern province of Kandahar.

In February, thousands of Afghans held street rallies after US soldiers inadvertently burned copies of the Koran at a NATO base in Kabul.

A month earlier, a video emerged apparently showing US marines urinating on dead Afghans.