Defense Secretary Leon Panetta apologized on Wednesday for the photos of American soldiers posing with body parts of Afghan militants, according to the Associated Press.
After a meeting of NATO foreign and defense ministers in Brussels, Panetta told reporters at a news conference that he strongly condemned the behavior of the soldiers. He said an investigation was already underway.
Panetta said, "I know war is ugly ... I know young people sometimes [get] caught up in the moment ... make some very foolish decisions." According to Reuters, he said, "I am not excusing that."
Panetta said, "My apology is on behalf of the Department of Defense and the US government."
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Panetta said he does not want the incident to bring more harm to the US troops currently in Afghanistan, according to the AP.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters "The conduct depicted in those photos is reprehensible and does not in any way represent the ... standards of the US military," according to Reuters. Carney also said President Barack Obama shared Panetta's wish for a thorough investigation and holding those responsible accountable.
Marine Gen. John Allen, the US commander of Western troops in Afghanistan, also denounced the behavior of the soldiers, according to The Los Angeles Times.
The US ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan C. Crocker, released a statement, saying, "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," according to The LA Times.
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Pentagon press secretary George Little said the soldiers "responsible for this inhuman conduct will be held accountable," according to The Wall Street Journal.
Two of 18 photos were published by The LA Times, adding to a string of incidents this year which have beleaguered the NATO forces in Afghanistan. Little criticized the newspaper for publishing the images, stating, "The danger is that this material could be used by the enemy to incite violence against U.S. and Afghan service members in Afghanistan."
Early this year, a video showed US Marines urinating on corpses and the inadvertent burning of Qurans by NATO troops sparked violent protests. In March, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales allegedly went on a shooting spree in an Afghan village near Kandahar, killing 17 civilians. The incidents have severely strained relations between the US and Afghanistan.
The Guardian noted that the response in Kabul included condemnation of the soldiers' behavior but lacked the personal outrage that was sparked by the burning of the Qurans and the civilian deaths.
Ahmad Shah Behzad, a member of parliament from Herat province, said, "Making jokes with a dead body, whether he is an enemy or not, is against the culture of Afghanistan and sharia law." He added, "It doesn't matter who is doing that, Afghan or international. They have mental problems – perhaps because they have been at war, and are filled with anger. It has no benefits for them but of course it has benefits for the terrorist groups," according to the Guardian.
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