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U.S. troops posed with body parts of Afghan bombers

An American soldier says he released the photos to the Los Angeles Times to draw attention to the safety risk of a breakdown in leadership and discipline. The Army has started a criminal investigation.

April 18, 2012|By David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times

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 platoon was able to obtain some fingerprints from the corpses for a database maintained by U.S. forces, the soldier said.

The soldiers felt a sense of triumph and satisfaction, especially after learning that the insurgents had been killed by their own explosives, he said.

"They were frustrated, just pissed off — their buddies had been blown up by IEDs" — improvised explosive devices — the soldier said. "So they sort of just celebrated."

The Qalat photos were circulated among several members of the platoon, the soldier said, and soldiers often joked about them. Most of the soldiers in the photos were low-ranking — including six specialists or privates.

Col. Brian Drinkwine, then-commander of the 4th Brigade, and Lt. Col. David Oclander, then-commander of the 1st Battalion, said they were not authorized to comment on the photos.

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 deployment.

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.

Separately, an Army investigation criticized Drinkwine for failing to prevent his wife from threatening and harassing some unit officers and their spouses during the deployment.

Ft. Bragg's commanding general, Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, told the Fayetteville Observer in June 2010 that Drinkwine had created "a dysfunctional situation" in the unit. Drinkwine remained in command until after the deployment ended that August.

david.zucchino@latimes.com

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