By PAULINE JELINEK and ANNE GEARAN, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House and the Pentagon voiced regrets Wednesday for newly published photographs that purport to show U.S. troops posing with the bodies of dead insurgents in Afghanistan, with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta calling them a violation of America's "core values."
"My apology is on behalf of the Department of Defense and the U.S. government," Panetta told a news conference following a NATO meeting in Brussels.
At the White House, President Barack Obama's chief spokesman, Jay Carney, echoed Panetta's comments, saying the incident was "reprehensible."
It was the latest in a series of recent Afghan battlefield embarrassments for the United States, and it came at a time when Washington is still working with President Hamid Karzai in Kabul to smooth over strained relations.
Carney said the picture-taking incident does not represent the standards of the U.S. military and said that Obama believes the situation needs to be investigated and those responsible held accountable. He said he didn't know if the president had seen the photos.
The photos were published in Wednesday's Los Angeles Times. One shows members of the 82nd Airborne Division posing in 2010 with Afghan police and the severed legs of a suicide bomber. The same platoon a few months later was sent to investigate the remains of three insurgents reported to have accidentally blown themselves up -- and soldiers again posed and mugged for photographs with the remains, the newspaper said.
A photo from that incident appears to show the hand of a dead insurgent resting on a U.S. soldier's shoulder as the soldier smiles. Top U.S. military and civilian officials rushed to condemn the soldiers' actions Wednesday, calling them repugnant and a dishonor to others who have served in the conflict. The Army said an investigation is under way.
Panetta said he condemned the behavior, but said, "This is war. I know that war is ugly and it's violent, and I know that young people sometimes caught up in the moment sometimes make very foolish decisions."
The U.S. military image in Afghanistan has been taking a beating in recent months. In January, U.S. Marines were found to have made a video of themselves urinating on Afghan corpses. In February, what the military said was the accidental burning of Qurans triggered violent protests and revenge killings of six Americans. And last month, a U.S. soldier left his base and allegedly killed 17 civilian villagers, mainly women and children.
The Times said that a soldier provided the newspaper with a series of 18 photos of soldiers posing with corpses. The soldier served in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne's 4th Brigade Combat Team from Ft. Bragg, N.C., and said the photos point to a breakdown in leadership and discipline that he believed compromised the safety of the troops, the newspaper reported.
Even before the photos were published online, Pentagon press secretary George Little said Panetta "rejects the conduct depicted in these two-year-old photographs."
"Anyone found responsible for this inhuman conduct will be held accountable in accordance with our military justice system," Little said.
The U.S. commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John R. Allen, also criticized the troops. He said there is a strict policy for the handling of enemy remains and it dictates they be processed as humanely as possible.
"The incident depicted in the LA Times' photographs represeestigations, according to Marine Corps officials.
Anne Gearan contributed from Brussels. AP writers Robert Burns contributed to this story from Washington, Patrick Quinn from Kabul, Afghanistan, and Mark D. Carlson from Brussels.