WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta made a personal appeal to American troops Friday to refrain from misconduct -- a pointed response to the recent publication of images of soldiers urinating on corpses and posing with body parts, behavior that has complicated the war in Afghanistan.
In a speech at Fort Benning, Ga., Panetta was blunt in his assessment of the breakdown of discipline, saying these incidents “show a lack of judgment, a lack of professionalism, and a lack of leadership.”
Panetta reminded troops that they are representing the American people and they must live up to strict military standards. “These days, it takes only seconds for one picture to suddenly become an international headline,” the former California congressman said, standing in front of one of the most battle-hardened units in the Army, the “Hammer brigade” of the 3rd Infantry Division.
“And those headlines can impact the mission we’re engaged in, they can put your fellow service members at risk, they can hurt morale, and they can damage our standing in the world,” he said.
Panetta’s admonition is part of a broader effort by military commanders to tighten discipline within the ranks of the Army and Marine Corps. It follows revelations of disturbing conduct by U.S. troops over the past four months that have inflamed emotions in Afghanistan, played into Taliban propaganda and strained relations with President Hamid Karzai.