Graphic photos of U.S. soldiers posing next to decimated bodies of suspected Afghan suicide bombers published in a U.S. newspaper have sparked anger from authorities condemning both the soldiers and the publication that chose to distribute the images.
The two-year-old photos feature American soldiers standing and smiling next to what appears to be dead Afghan suicide bombers – one photo even depicts a group of soldiers holding up the severed legs of a man's body.
It is likely the photos will stir tensions even further between U.S. and Afghanistan forces, despite swift condemnation from U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Agence France-Presse reported.
"Secretary Panetta strongly rejects the conduct depicted in these two-year-old photographs," said George Little, a spokesman for the Pentagon in a statement.
Little was also critical of the decision by the LA Times to release the photos it obtained from a soldier in the division, saying the Pentagon had asked the publication not to share the images.
"The danger is that this material could be used by the enemy to incite violence against U.S. and Afghan service members in Afghanistan. U.S. forces in the country are taking security measures to guard against it," the spokesman said.
LA Times editor Davan Maharaj has defended the newspaper's decision, however, and said it only published a "small but representative selection" of the images because of their news value.
"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," Maharaj explained.
Little revealed that an investigation has been opened into the photos and any soldiers who might have been involved.
Defense Secretary Panetta also denounced the LA Times' photos as not reflecting the "values or professionalism" of the vast majority of America's fighting forces in Afghanistan.
U.S. troops have faced increased scrutiny in Afghanistan, with violent protests erupting in February over the accidental burning of Qurans by American soldiers at a NATO base, and the murder of 17 Afghan civilians, including nine children, allegedly by Staff Sgt. Robert Bales in March.
Officials say there is a danger the photos will provoke further attacks on American troops by Taliban or Afghan extremists seeking revenge.