U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday an investigation is under way into photographs published by the Los Angeles Times newspaper, showing U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan posing with the remains of suicide bombers.
Panetta, who is in Brussels for a rare joint NATO foreign and defense ministers meeting, issued a condemnation and said the individuals responsible will be held accountable for the photos, which U.S. officials say will further damage relations with the Afghans.
Defense Secretary Panetta said that the two-year-old images “by no means represent the values or professionalism of the vast majority of U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan today.”
He also voiced disappointment that the newspaper did not honor an official request not to publish the pictures. The U.S. defense secretary warned the material could be used to incite violence against U.S. and Afghan troops.
The photos from 2010 show members of the United States Army posing with the bodies of insurgents who killed themselves in suicide attacks. The Times published two of the 18 photographs on its website Wednesday.
According to the Times, an American soldier released the photos to the newspaper on condition of anonymity in order to draw attention to a breakdown in leadership and discipline that he believed posed a threat to the safety of troops.
The soldier told the newspaper that virtually all the men depicted in the photos had friends who were killed or wounded by homemade bombs or suicide attacks.
The commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, U.S. General John Allen, called the soldiers’ actions “entirely inconsistent” with coalition and U.S. Army policies. He said they “undermine the daily sacrifices of thousands of ISAF troops who continued to serve honorably in Afghanistan.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney described the conduct depicted in the photographs as “reprehensible,” saying it does not in any way represent the standards of the U.S. military.
Meanwhile, a NATO service member died Wednesday of a non-battle related injury in eastern Afghanistan. The nationality of the soldier has not been released.