UPDATE, 1:50 p.m. ET: President Barack Obama condemned the conduct by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan shown in photos posing with the mangled body parts of suicide bombers, his spokesman said Wednesday.
Obama is calling for a full investigation, spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One.
"The conduct depicted in those photographs is reprehensible," Carney said. "Those responsible will be held accountable."
12:51 p.m. ET: U.S. defense secretary Leon Panetta denounced photos published on Wednesday by the Los Angeles Times showing U.S. troops in Afghanistan posing with bodies of dead Afghan suicide bombers.
"These images by no means represent the values or professionalism of the vast majority of U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan today," Panetta said in a statement relayed by Pentagon press secretary George Little.
Little confirmed that the Pentagon had urged the L. A. Times not to publish the photos.
"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 said.
EARLIER: Photos of U.S. troops in Afghanistan posing with the bodies of dead Afghan suicide bombers were published by the Los Angeles Times early on Wednesday, sparking a military investigation.
The graphic photos—taken in 2010—show soldiers, some smiling, posing with dismembered body parts of Afghan insurgents. A soldier from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division provided 18 photos to the paper, which published them online.
U.S. officials "strongly condemned" the photos. The Army has launched a "criminal investigation," the Times said.
In a statement to CNN, Gen. John Allen, head of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, said the incident "represents a serious error in judgment by several soldiers who have acted out of ignorance and unfamiliarity with U.S. Army values."
The U.S. embassy in Kabul released a similar statement: "Such actions are morally repugnant, dishonor the sacrifices of hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers and civilians who have served with distinction in Afghanistan, and do not represent the core values of the United States or our military."
The release of the photos comes at a "particularly sensitive moment for U.S.-Afghan relations," the Times noted:
In January, a video appeared on the Internet showing four U.S. Marines urinating on Afghan corpses. In February, the inadvertent burning of copies of the Koran at a U.S. base triggered riots that left 30 dead and led to the deaths of six Americans. In March, a U.S. Army sergeant went on a nighttime shooting rampage in two Afghan villages, killing 17.
The paratroopers that took the macabre photos had been deployed to get "iris scans and fingerprints" of the suicide bombers who had accidentally blown themselves up.
The soldier who provided the photos to the Times did so on the condition of anonymity—though the paper provided some details:
He served in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne's 4th Brigade Combat Team from Ft. Bragg, N.C. He said the photos point to a breakdown in leadership and discipline that he believed compromised the safety of the troops. He expressed the hope that publication would help ensure that alleged security shortcomings at two U.S. bases in Afghanistan in 2010 were not repeated.
U.S. officials asked the Times not to publish them.
"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," L.A. Times Editor Davan Maharaj said in a statement, "including the allegation that the images reflect a breakdown in unit discipline that was endangering U.S. troops."
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