US troops posed with body parts of Afghan bombers
The paratroopers had their assignment: Check out reports that Afghan
police had recovered the mangled remains of an insurgent suicide bomber.
Try to get iris scans and fingerprints for identification.
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.
A few months later, the same platoon was dispatched to investigate
the remains of three insurgents who Afghan police said had accidentally
blown themselves up. After obtaining a few fingerprints, they posed next
to the remains, again grinning and mugging for photographs.
A soldier from the US Army’s 82nd
Airborne with a dead insurgent’s hand on his shoulder. Pic:
Los Angeles Times
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.
The Army launched a criminal investigation after the Los Angeles
Times showed officials copies of the photos, which recently were given
to the paper by a soldier from the division.
“It is a violation of Army standards to pose with corpses for
photographs outside of officially sanctioned purposes,” said George
Wright, an Army spokesman. “Such actions fall short of what we expect of
our uniformed service members in deployed areas.”
Wright said that after the investigation, the Army would “take
appropriate action” against those involved. Most of the soldiers in the
photos have been identified, said Lt. Col. Margaret Kageleiry, an Army
spokeswoman. The photos have emerged at a particularly sensitive moment
for US-Afghan relations. In January, a video appeared on the Internet
showing four US Marines urinating on Afghan corpses. In February, the
inadvertent burning of copies of the Koran at a US base triggered riots
that left 30 dead and led to the deaths of six Americans. In March, a US
Army sergeant went on a night time shooting rampage in two Afghan
villages, killing 17.
The soldier who provided The Times with a series of 18 photos of
soldiers posing with corpses did so on condition of anonymity. He served
in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne’s 4th Brigade Combat Team from Ft.
Bragg, N.C. He said the photos point to a breakdown in leadership and
discipline that he believed compromised the safety of the troops.
He expressed the hope that publication would help ensure that alleged
security shortcomings at two US bases in Afghanistan in 2010 were not
repeated. The brigade, under new command but with some of the same
paratroopers who served in 2010, began another tour in Afghanistan in
US military officials asked The Times not to publish any of the
Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said the conduct depicted
“most certainly does not represent the character and the professionalism
of the great majority of our troops in Afghanistan.... Nevertheless,
this imagery - more than two years old - now has the potential to indict
them all in the minds of local Afghans, inciting violence and perhaps
causing needless casualties.”
Kirby added, “We have taken the necessary precautions to protect our
troops in the event of any backlash.”
The Times Editor Davan Maharaj said, “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,
including the allegation that the images reflect a breakdown in unit
discipline that was endangering US troops.”
The photos were taken during a year-long deployment of the
3,500-member brigade, which lost 35 men during that time, according to
icasualties.org, a website that tracks casualties. At least 23 were
killed by home-made bombs or suicide bombers.
Suicide attacks on two bases of the brigade’s 1st Battalion, 508th
Parachute Infantry Regiment killed six US soldiers and four Afghan
interpreters. The platoon whose soldiers posed for the photos was part
of the battalion.
The soldier who provided the photos, and two other former members of
the battalion, said in separate interviews that they and others had
complained of inadequate security at the two bases.
An Army investigation into a July 2010 suicide attack in Kandahar
that killed four US soldiers found that senior members of the battalion
had complained about security. But it concluded that force protection
measures were “reasonable and prudent” in the face of limited resources.
Virtually all of the men depicted in the photos had friends who were
killed or wounded by home-made bombs or suicide attacks, according to
the soldier who provided the images. One paratrooper on the mission wore
a bracelet bearing the name of a fallen comrade.
On the first mission, to the police station in the provincial capital
of Qalat, Afghan police told the platoon that the severed legs belonged
to a suicide bomber whose explosives detonated as he tried to attack a
police unit, according to the soldier who provided the photos.
On the second mission, to the morgue in Qalat in late April or early
May 2010, Afghan police told the platoon that explosives had detonated
as three insurgents were preparing a roadside bomb.
The Pentagon declined a Times request that Army officials contact all
active-duty soldiers in the photos to provide an opportunity to comment.
The Times sent requests for comment by email and Facebook to seven
soldiers in the photos. One, now serving in Afghanistan, declined to
comment. The others did not respond.
The photos were taken during a tumultuous period in the brigade’s
In January 2010, the commander of the brigade’s 2nd Battalion and the
battalion’s top non-commissioned officer were relieved of duty and
ordered home after slides with racial and sexist overtones were shown
during daily PowerPoint briefings.
- Los Angeles Times