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After Body Parts Photos Surface, Afghanistan Wants Foreign Troops Out

President Obama and Afghanistan President Karzai in Kabul in 2010 (White House)
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After the LA Times published photographs of U.S. soldiers posing with body parts of Afghan bombers, U.S. officials denounced the acts, but they also criticized the paper for, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta put it, distributing "material [that] could be used by the enemy to incite violence against U.S. and Afghan service members in Afghanistan." Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has an idea: How about the U.S. and other Western forces get out fast?

The Times reports, "President Hamid Karzai said Thursday that a speeded-up departure of Western troops from his country is the only way to prevent a recurrence of 'painful experiences' such as the sight of American soldiers posing with the body parts of dead insurgents... Karzai called the behavior depicted 'inhumane and provocative.' ...The palace statement said Karzai sought an 'accelerated and full transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces, so Afghanistan can take over its own destiny, and thus no such things can be repeated by the foreign forces in Afghanistan.'"

The Taliban also chimed in, saying the photos showed "gruesome acts" and also criticized Afghan soldiers seen in them, ""Some Afghan hirelings ... posed in the photos, at their masters' orders, to scorn the remains of martyrs."

The NY Times looks at how these photographs raise "questions within the military community about whether fundamental discipline is breaking down given the nature and length of the war."

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The images also add to a troubling list of cases — including Marines videotaped urinating on Taliban bodies, the burning of Korans, and the massacre of villagers attributed to a lone Army sergeant — that have cast American soldiers in the harshest possible light before the Afghan public. Accordingly, combat veterans and military analysts are beginning to look inside the catchall phrase “stress on the force” to identify factors that could be contributing to the breaches. One potential explanation put forth by these analysts is the exhaustion felt by the class of non-commissioned officers that forms the backbone of the all-volunteer force: the sergeants responsible for training, mentoring and disciplining small groups of 18- and 19-year-old soldiers at the small-unit level, hour by hour, patrol by patrol.

Another factor, they say, may be the demands of a counterinsurgency strategy that has distributed small units across vast distances to serve at primitive combat outposts. Self-reliance required in isolation may promote heroic camaraderie. But the rugged terrain, logistical challenges and the in-your-face violence of the insurgency may also present great challenges to the noncommissioned officers in charge of these small units, operating far beyond the more consistent senior supervision in past wars.

Yesterday, Secretary of State Clinton and Panetta were at NATO headquarters in Brussels to discuss the "ongoing commitment to the security mission in Afghanistan up to and beyond 2014. Panetta said, "Allies and partners have a very clear vision and a very clear message: Our strategy is right, our strategy is working, and if we stick to it, we can achieve the mission of establishing an Afghanistan that can secure and govern itself, and never again become a safe haven for terrorists."
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