KABUL, Afghanistan -- Photos showing American servicemen posing for mocking trophy shots with the bodies of Afghan suicide bombers drew expressions of revulsion from Afghans after the pictures’ publication Wednesday in the Los Angeles Times.
Initial public reaction was muted, however, in part because many ordinary Afghans, especially those living in rural parts of the country, do not have access to the Internet to view the images. The country’s main evening news broadcasts did not show the photos.
The graphic pictures represented the latest in a series of damaging incidents and disclosures involving American troops in Afghanistan, which have come in close succession since the start of the year. Video that surfaced in January showed U.S. troops urinating on the dead bodies of Taliban combatants. The following month saw the burning of Korans at an American-run military base, and in March, a U.S. Army sergeant was charged in a deadly shooting rampage outside his base in Kandahar province, more than half of whose 17 victims were children.
The Koran-burning, which American officials said was inadvertent, triggered nearly a week of deadly riots that broke out hours after the action came to light, leaving more than 30 people dead, including four U.S. service members. But Afghans interviewed about the scenes shown in the photographs seemed more disgusted and saddened than furiously indignant.
The fact that the photos in question were taken two years ago did little to blunt the disdain. “Nothing has changed since then, and nothing will,” said Farhad Mohammad, a merchant in the southern city of Kandahar. “Always it is a matter of disrespect.”
Suicide bombers, who cause hundreds of Afghan civilian deaths every year, are widely despised. Even so, the taboo against desecration of the dead is strong in this religiously conservative country.
“We condemn Americans posing with dead bodies or body parts,” said Najla Dehqan Nezhad, a member of parliament from the western province of Herat.
The Taliban made no initial statement, although the group generally exploits such incidents for propaganda purposes. Well aware of that fact, senior U.S. officials in Afghanistan denounced the actions of the soldiers depicted even before the pictures were published.
“The actions of the individuals photographed do not represent the policies” of the NATO force or the U.S. military, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of Western forces in Afghanistan, said in a statement. He called the behavior “entirely inconsistent” with the values of the United States and its military coalition partners, and said an investigation was under way.
The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan C. Crocker, issued a similar condemnation. “Such actions are morally repugnant,” he said.
President Hamid Karzai, who has often been harshly critical of the actions of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and American troops in particular, was silent in the initial hours following the photos’ publication. His office did not immediately return calls seeking comment, although a presidential spokesman said Wednesday evening that a statement was forthcoming.
In recent weeks, Karzai has laid down demands governing a long-term foreign presence in Afghanistan even after the international combat mission largely winds down. U.S. officials agreed to curtail night raids on Afghan homes and accepted Afghan jurisdiction over most captured insurgents. With a NATO summit in Chicago just over a month away, Karzai this week said he expected international funding to continue at a rate of between $4 billion and $5 billion annually.
-- Laura King and Hashmat Baktash