Disclosure of US Troops Posing With Body Parts Newest Threat to Afghanistan Stability

As I pointed out on Monday, the preferred story line surrounding the weekend Taliban attacks across Afghanistan was that Afghan security forces repulsed the attacks with little to no help from outside forces. In fact, Australia used this moment of public confidence in the capabilities of Afghan forces to announce that they would speed up withdrawal of their “forces” (with only 1500 troops there, the Australians hardly represent a true presence), joining NATO allies Canada and Norway, which already have withdrawn, and France, Germany and Britain, who have announced their withdrawal timetables.

Building on the weekend’s success story about Afghan capabilities, a major AP story this morning discusses US and NATO plans for the hand-off of security responsibility to Afghanistan:

The United States and its NATO allies are readying plans to pull away from the front lines in Afghanistan next year as President Barack Obama and fellow leaders try to show that the unpopular war is ending.


This week’s sessions are meant to stitch together U.S. and NATO agreements on the pace of U.S. and allied combat withdrawal next year. U.S. and Afghan officials have already said they expect a shift to an Afghan military lead in combat operations by the middle of 2013, although the U.S. stresses that it will still have a large number of forces in Afghanistan as backup.

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said Wednesday that the Afghans are on track to take the lead in securing the country by the end of 2013. Azimi said the Afghan Army has already reached its target number of 195,000 troops. Including police and other forces, Afghan security forces now number about 330,000.

A major test of the claim that conditions in Afghanistan are stabilizing will now come from the latest revelation of atrocities by US troops. The Los Angeles Times today published photos of multiple incidents of US troops posing with dismembered bodies of Afghan insurgents killed by roadside bombs:

The 82nd Airborne Division soldiers arrived at the police station in Afghanistan’s Zabol province in February 2010. They inspected the body parts. Then the mission turned macabre: The paratroopers posed for photos next to Afghan police, grinning while some held — and others squatted beside — the corpse’s severed legs.


Two soldiers posed holding a dead man’s hand with the middle finger raised. A soldier leaned over the bearded corpse while clutching the man’s hand. Someone placed an unofficial platoon patch reading “Zombie Hunter” next to other remains and took a picture.

Given the recent responses to the disclosures of US troops urinating on dead insurgents and burning sacred books, this latest disclosure seems likely to generate a new round of violent protests. This also seems to be the sort of event that sparks further “green on blue” attacks (pdf) where Afghan forces kill NATO forces.

New green on blue killings would be a major setback to the claim that Afghan forces are nearing the ability to take over full responsibility for security, even though the official US line on such events is that they are “isolated incidents“. Similarly, increased attacks by the Taliban would go against Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s is explanation to his “brothers” that their attacks only increase the odds of foreign forces staying longer in Afghanistan.

8 replies
  1. orionATL says:

    this is so deeply offensive to me. these soldiers represent my country, and they are doing a contemptibly bad job of doing so.

    i ask again, where is the professional discipline? where are the missing officer-leaders in this mess.

  2. MadDog says:

    After reading the Los Angeles Time’s piece about this earlier this morning, and seeing the 2 pictures they displayed then, it seems that I’ve been giving this more thought than I would even normally do.

    By that I don’t mean that I didn’t share the usual reaction of disgust or anger at what was done by these US soldiers. No, I think that would be the normal reaction.

    Instead, the deeper thoughts that I eventually drifted into are these:

    What started my deeper sojourn was the headline crawl from one of the TV news outlets. It was MSNBC, but it could’ve been and probably was the same on most any news outlet.

    The headline crawl that I’m referring to was something like this:

    “…Secretary of Defense Panetta stated that he deplores this incident and says it doesn’t represent who we are…”

    The deeper thoughts that came over me were that Secretary Panetta is in some sense wrong. By that I mean, and I’ll say it straight out, it does represent who we are!

    And I don’t mean that to say that this represents who the US troops are, or at least not just exclusively who we Americans are. Instead, I mean that this does represent who as a species we are.

    And please understand, I’m not saying this represents what we would want and imagine ourselves to be. No, I’m saying this should starkly identify the difference between the “Reality” of who we are versus the “Myth” of who we imagine ourselves to be or would wish ourselves to be.

    If you think about it, posing with the dead of your enemy has a long history. When the camera first took to the battlefields of our own Civil War, we posed with the dead. As a matter of fact, pictures of the dead were arguably the unseemly highlight of Civil War photography.

    But don’t stop there! The posing with the dead goes back much further in our specie’s history. In fact, I suspect that it goes back to the beginning of our specie’s history as sentient beings.

    If any reading this worry that I’m somehow condoning these actions of posing with the dead, please don’t make that mistake.

    I’m am making an unpleasant observation of our reality. And in recognizing the facts of that reality, is a valuable insight.

    I don’t know how all of us would react to being in the “unreal” situation that these US troops find themselves in. I suspect we wouldn’t be all that different from the very average human being that is likely the composition of these US forces. The abnormal becomes the normal. At any moment you may kill or yourself be killed.

    No bootcamp training or even years of watching violent TV or violent videogame playing can compare with the actual reality of death and destruction in your face.

    Again, I’m not condoning the US troops’ behavior. All that we are taught across our different human cultures is to disapprove of this type of behavior.

    And yet, this is probably not an unusual type of behavior for any of us when faced with the very same situation of death and destruction. We can scarcely believe the unreality. It isn’t what we’ve known nor what we’ve been taught to expect of life.

    It is not who we want or imagine ourselves to be, but again to correct Secretary Panetta, it is in fact who we are! And not just those US troops, but this is in fact the reality of our species.

    Thus closes today’s commentary on what I’ve been plumbing regarding our Myth and our Reality.

  3. Jeff Kaye says:

    @MadDog: To say that underneath the thin veneer of civilization lies a raging, violent animal is to say nothing new. War breaks down the barriers between civilized behavior and barbarism, and nation-states that practice imperial conquest necessarily end up imploding, in part due to the incessant brutalization of the society through repeated war, with the virus transmitted via the soldiers and their superior officers.

    It is worth noting that towards the end of the article, we see the following about the leadership of the brigade of which the platoon was a part:

    In January 2010, the commander of the brigade’s 2nd Battalion and the battalion’s top noncommissioned officer were relieved of duty and ordered home after slides with racial and sexist overtones were shown during daily PowerPoint briefings….

    Ft. Bragg’s commanding general, Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, told the Fayetteville Observer in June 2010 that [then-brigade commander] Drinkwine had created “a dysfunctional situation” in the unit. Drinkwine remained in command until after the deployment ended that August.

  4. MadDog says:

    @Jeff Kaye:

    “To say that underneath the thin veneer of civilization lies a raging, violent animal is to say nothing new…”

    Absolutely correct!

    And one additional thing that I found interesting in watching/reading the news about this – our MSM, both print and visual, all seemed to censor either the pictures themselves or the number of pictures shown.

    They all stated that viewing them would apparently be too offensive for their readers/viewers.

    Think about that for a moment! Think about what it says about the mindset these days of our MSM.

    I can count thousands and thousands of Life magazine pictures (the pre-eminent media outlet of the day) of WW II where pictures of the dead from battle and from the concentration camps were presented in gruesome and graphic detail.

    Watch almost any program on the Military Channel concerning WW I, WW II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, etc. and you’ll encounter thousands of pictures of dead human beings.

    Perhaps the passage of time allows the MSM to assume that its distance renders the graphic portrayal of human death less offensive.

    Or consider that perhaps today the MSM is loathe to pierce its own mythical representation of “us”. It is not so much that they are sheltering the American public, but that they are sheltering themselves from accepting their idyllic is not reality.

    And add to the mix, the fact that the MSM today generally is quite willing to show us pictures of what those other “bad people” do, but when it comes to what our own do, not so much.

  5. rugger9 says:

    MadDog, the other thing about filtering the pictures is that it continues the “other” theme, or makes it like a comic book. No accountability.

    As far as the discipline goes, that horse is long gone over the hill. Instead of going after the “rogue” warriors with wrist slaps, the senior NCOs as well as the officers should have been removed in the first round, so the standard that would be enforced would be clear. However, you get what you inspect, not expect. When Shrub’s administration went all cowboy, it fostered a culture down the line. When they turned blind eyes to Abu Ghraib, renditions, and Bagram [among many others] except for the lowest levels, the troops got the message loud and clear. Open season. Since the multiple events of killing collateral damage [and FWIW US soldiers] by the drone jockeys with no accountability at all, it’s clear that the message from the command in the region is that these are subhumans to be exterminated. We also see it in the treatment of the Occupy protesters.

    One also must consider the environment of the contractors, the thefts, rapes of US and other females with NO accountability, the electrocuting of troops in showers with NO accountability, no wonder “Lord of the Flies” is a fundamental part of our presence there.

    Our troops deserve better than being left in this sh_hole.

  6. Jose Rios says:

    The sickest part of the last 10 yrs to me us Who wants to take pics of themselves next to dead bodies, or body parts, or who you just tortured (abu ghraib)? It’s not Everybody but it’s alot more than “a few”, Panetta wakes up & practices his “this isn’t who we are” speeches daily I believe. They vlast the L.A. Times & wikileaks for publishing this stuff but it’s the TROOPS taking the pics & vids, then a few troops saying “this is crazy or wrong”, Americans don’t want to see what happens when you send regular ppl to war with guns & immunity, well that’s too bad. Maybe this will help stop the rush to war? I doubt it….

  7. rugger9 says:

    One thing I remembered later was the fact that to avoid calling for a draft [which would have put GOP elite kids at risk of actually serving, in addition to being political kryptonite], Rummy relaxed the rules for joining the military to restore previously out of bounds groups, including felons, low intelligence types, non-GED, and got to where they even allowed service members with missing body parts like legs and stuff to keep serving. Then Rummy, Darth, and Shrub sent them back in country over and over again, denied PTSD and other disability claims solely to save money on treatment, and cut back on VA facilities. Walter Reed’s scandal was a symptom of the WH contempt of those who died for them, even Ft Lewis was going to stop giving individual funerals because they were doing so many of them. And let’s not forget that Shrub, Darth, and Rummy considered the dead to be cargo.

    Of course these guys are crazy, it was a rare Vietnam vet that had to go longer than a year or one rotation, and that was quite enough for real damage on many levels. These guys got multiple bites at that poisoned apple.

  8. Lex says:

    Memo to the Pentagon tool on NPR yesterday afternoon: The LA Times running a photo of U.S. soldiers posing for photos with dead Taliban is not going to increase attacks on U.S. troops. U.S. soldiers posing for photos with dead Taliban is going to increase attacks on U.S. troops.

    Grow the hell up.

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