The U.S. government has said it "strongly condemns" the conduct of several American soldiers shown on photographs apparently abusing the corpses of suspected Afghan militants.
At a news conference after a NATO meeting in Brussels, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the photos did not reflect the "values" of U.S. soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and pledged that the perpetrators would be punished.
"That behavior that was depicted in those photos absolutely violates both our regulations and, more importantly, our core values. This is not who we are and it's certainly not who we represent when it comes to the great majority of men and women in uniform who are serving there," Panetta said.
Panetta also expressed disappointment that the “Los Angeles Times” ignored a Pentagon request to refrain from publishing the photos.
"We had urged the 'L.A. Times' not to run those photos, and the reason for that is those kind of photos are used by the enemy to incite violence and lives have been lost as a result of the publication of similar photos in the past, so we regret that they were published," Panetta said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney described the conduct depicted in the photos as “reprehensible."
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also condemned the photos, but insisted that that it was an "isolated event."
The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, earlier denounced "a serious error in judgment by several soldiers.”
And U.S. Ambassador in Kabul Ryan Crocker said such actions were “morally repugnant.”
The pictures apparently show soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division posing with remains of suspected suicide bombers in the southeastern province of Zabol in 2010.
In one of the photos, a soldier posed next to an unofficial patch placed beside a body that read "Zombie Hunter."
In another picture, soldiers posed with Afghan police officers holding the severed legs of a corpse.
Two soldiers are also shown holding a dead man's hand with the middle finger raised.
The “Los Angeles Times” said it was given a total of 18 photos by a U.S. soldier "to draw attention to the safety risk of a breakdown in leadership and discipline" among American troops.
The publication of the photos is the latest in a series of scandals that has strained U.S.-Afghan relations.
In March, U.S. Staff Sergeant Robert Bales was charged in connection with the shooting of 17 Afghan civilians.
In February, U.S. soldiers burned copies of the Koran at a NATO base near Kabul, triggering unrest in which more than 30 people died.
A video emerged in January apparently showing U.S. soldiers urinating on dead militants.
And photographs published last year showed American soldiers posing with the corpses of Afghan civilians as "war trophies."