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Afghanistan leader seeks swifter troop pullout amid photos furor

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai decries the behavior of U.S. troops photographed with insurgents' remains. Western troops' departure will prevent a recurrence, he says.

April 19, 2012|By Laura King, Los Angeles Times
  • Members of the Afghan national police demonstrate their skills during their graduation ceremony in Jalalabad. President Hamid Karzai wants an accelerated transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan forces in light of a scandal involving photographs of U.S. troops.
Members of the Afghan national police demonstrate their skills during… (Noorullah Shirzada / AFP/Getty…)

KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai suggested Thursday that a speeded-up departure of Western troops 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.

In a statement issued by the Afghan presidential palace 24 hours after the Los Angeles Times published photos showing U.S. troops with the remains of suicide bombers and mugging for the camera, Karzai called the behavior depicted "inhumane and provocative."

"It is such a disgusting act to take photos with body parts and then share it with others," he said.

The Taliban, in its first public statement since the pictures of U.S. soldiers and dead bombers appeared, denounced the "gruesome acts" depicted in the photos. The militant group also lambasted Afghan soldiers who were present in some of the shots.

"Some Afghan hirelings … posed in the photos, at their masters' orders, to scorn the remains of martyrs," the statement said.

The Obama administration has roundly condemned the actions shown in the photos, and the U.S. military has launched an investigation of the incidents, which took place in 2010 but have only now come to light.

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 NATO force is to wind down its combat role by the end of 2014, but growing numbers of troop-contributing nations have indicated they will pull out their forces next year. The transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan forces, which has been in progress for a year, is a key prelude to the exit of Western combat troops.

In advance of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit next month in Chicago, Karzai has been highly critical of his Western patrons. This week, he said NATO's intelligence failures were primarily to blame for a wide-ranging spate of coordinated attacks in Kabul, the Afghan capital, and elsewhere. He also demanded specific financial commitments that he said must continue once most Western combat troops are gone.

The Taliban and other insurgent groups have reaped propaganda windfalls from a series of missteps this year involving American troops, including the burning of copies of the Muslim holy book at a U.S.-run base and the deaths of 17 Afghan civilians in a shooting rampage in Kandahar province, in which an American Army sergeant faces murder charges.

Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said the United States continues to support Afghan efforts to make peace with the Taliban. The insurgents, however, have said publicly they are interested only in talks with the United States, not with the Karzai government.

"It's up to the Taliban, and other adversaries of the new order in Afghanistan, whether they will reconcile with it or be part of it, or whether they will continue to fight," Crocker told journalists Thursday in Kabul.

laura.king@latimes.com

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