Karzai, citing body-parts photos, calls for quicker U.S. exit
KABUL, Afghanistan -- President Hamid Karzai said Thursday that a speeded-up departure of Western troops from his country is the only way to prevent a recurrence of "painful experiences" such as the sight of American soldiers posing with the body parts of dead insurgents.
In a statement issued by the presidential palace 24 hours after the Los Angeles Times published photos showing U.S. troops manipulating the remains of suicide bombers and mugging for the camera, Karzai called the behavior depicted "inhumane and provocative."
The Obama administration has condemned the actions shown in the photos, and the U.S. military has launched an investigation of the incidents, which took place in 2010 but have only now come to light.
The palace statement said Karzai sought an "accelerated and full transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces, so Afghanistan can take over its own destiny, and thus no such things can be repeated by the foreign forces in Afghanistan."
The NATO force is due to wind down its combat role in 2014, but growing numbers of troop-contributing nations have indicated they plan to pull out their fighting forces next year. A transition of security responsibilities to the Afghan police and army is the centerpiece of the U.S. exit strategy.
Also Thursday, the Taliban, in its first public statement since the pictures appeared, denounced the "gruesome acts" depicted in the photos. The militant group also lambasted Afghan soldiers who were present in some of the shots.
"Some Afghan hirelings ... posed in the photos, at their masters' orders, to scorn the remains of martyrs," the statement said.
The Taliban and other insurgent groups have reaped propaganda windfalls from a series of missteps this year involving American troops, including the burning of copies of the Muslim holy book at a U.S.-run base and the deaths of 17 Afghan civilians in a shooting spree in Kandahar province, in which a U.S. Army sergeant faces murder charges.
Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, said the United States continues to support Afghan efforts to make peace with the Taliban. However, the insurgents have said publicly they are interested only in talks with the United States, not with the Karzai government.
"It's up to the Taliban, and other adversaries of the new order in Afghanistan, whether they will reconcile with it or be part of it, or whether they will continue to fight," Crocker told journalists in Kabul on Thursday.
-- Laura King
Photo: Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Credit: S. Sabawoon / EPA