The Los Angeles Times released a set of photos on Wednesday that appear to show U.S. troops in Afghanistan posing with the remains of suicide bombers. An American soldier released the photos to the LA Times "on the condition of anonymity."
International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander in Afghanistan Gen. John Allen 'strongly condemned' the photos. In a statement, ISAF clarified that the incident took place in 2010 and "represents a serious error in judgment by several soldiers who have acted out of ignorance and unfamiliarity with U.S. Army values."
According to NBC News, the Pentagon press secretary said Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta 'strongly rejects the conduct' of the soldiers depicted in the photos. Afghan President Hamid Karzai's spokesman declined to comment.
The anonymous soldier who released the photos to the LA Times reportedly told the paper that he released the photos to highlight security shortcomings at U.S. bases in Afghanistan. "He said the photos point to a breakdown in leadership and discipline that he believed compromised the safety of the troops," the LA Times reported.
The released images are the latest in a series of scandals involving U.S. forces that have put pressure on the United States' already-strained relations with Afghanistan.
In January, a video of U.S. Marines urinating on dead bodies of Taliban members sparked outrage. The burning of Qurans at a NATO airbase in February spurred week-long riots that killed dozens. In March, a U.S. army sergeant allegedly massacred 17 civilians in Afghanistan.
In one of the pictures a paratrooper posed next to an unofficial patch placed beside a body that read "Zombie Hunter", while in another soldiers posed with Afghan police holding the severed legs of an insurgent bombers.
Two soldiers in another frame held a dead insurgent's hand with the middle finger raised.
The LA Times said the 82nd Airborne Division soldiers had been at a police station in Afghanistan's Zabol province in February 2010, and revisited several months later. The pictures were taken on both occasions.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a statement released by departmental spokesman George Little that publication of the pictures could prompt further attacks against security forces ahead.
"The danger is that this material could be used by the enemy to incite violence against U.S. and Afghan service members in Afghanistan," Panetta said. "U.S. forces in the country are taking security measures to guard against it."
The U.S. Ambassador in Afghanistan Ryan Crocker also condemned the photographs, calling the actions of the soldiers "morally repugnant" and saying they "dishonor the sacrifices of hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers and civilians who have served with distinction in Afghanistan".
The Times defended the distribution of the photos, which U.S. military officials asked the Times not to publish.
"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," Times Editor Davan Maharaj said in the newspaper's article.
The photos are likely to stir up more anti-Western sentiment in Afghanistan as NATO combat troops look to exit the country in 2014 and strengthen fragile security in the country.
Such incidents have complicated U.S. efforts to negotiate a strategic partnership agreement to define its presence once most foreign combat troops pull out by the end of 2014.