By Geneva Sands and Jeremy Herb - 04/18/12 01:17 PM EDT
The Defense Department on Wednesday condemned the behavior of U.S. troops shown in photos posing with the corpses of dead Afghan suicide bombers.
“Secretary Panetta strongly rejects the conduct depicted in these two-year-old photographs,” Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs George Little said in a statement. “These images by no means represent the values or professionalism of the vast majority of U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan today."
Paratroopers in the 82nd Airborne Division and Afghan police appeared in the photos, which were released by the Los Angeles Times, posing with a corpse's severed legs in one image.
The Times said the pictures were taken at a police station in Afghanistan's Zabol province in February 2010, while American service members were on a mission to confirm reports that police had recovered the remains of a suicide bomber.
An additional photo allegedly shows soldiers from the same platoon posing next to remains of another dead Afghan a few months later, when they were sent to investigate the bodies of three insurgents who were alleged to have blown themselves up.
A service member who served in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne's 4th Brigade Combat Team from Fort Bragg, N.C., provided the paper with 18 photos on the condition of anonymity. The paper published two of the images on its website Wednesday morning.
The soldier released the photos to the newspaper "to draw attention to the safety risk of a breakdown in leadership and discipline," the Times said.
The Pentagon requested that the Times not publish the photographs out of concern that they would inspire violence in Afghanistan.
"The secretary is also disappointed that despite our request not to publish these photographs, the Los Angeles Times went ahead," Little said. "The danger is that this material could be used by the enemy to incite violence against U.S. and Afghan service members in Afghanistan. U.S. forces in the country are taking security measures to guard against it.”
“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," said Times editor Davan Maharaj in the original article.
Relations between the U.S. and Afghanistan have been increasingly strained in the last few months.
A recent incident in which U.S. service members burned Qurans at an air base sparked widespread protests and violence in Afghanistan, and six U.S. troops were killed in the week following. A video depicting Marines urinating on dead Taliban members did not incite similar violence, however.