The U.S. military is facing another in a series of polarizing controversies in Afghanistan, after a soldier leaked Abu Ghraib-like photographs that appear to show members of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division posing with the dismembered bodies of insurgent bombers. The Army condemned the photos — and the Los Angeles Times, which published them over Pentagon objections — and launched an official investigation. (See the graphic images here.) The White House called the two images, which were reportedly taken in 2010, "reprehensible." Will that be enough to contain the damage from this disturbing incident? Here, three predictions of how the scandal will affect the U.S. war effort:
1. This further erodes U.S.-Afghan relations
Washington's already strained partnership with the Afghan government just got worse, says Jim White at Emptywheel. Don't be surprised if "Afghan forces kill NATO forces" in retaliation, especially considering America's lousy track record in recent months: Burning Korans, urinating on Taliban corpses, and killing Afghan civilians. Make no mistake: This is another "major setback."
2. And strengthens the Taliban
"This kind of degradation and dishonoring of human corpses" is not as bad as what foreign forces have done to Afghan civilians in their own homes, Afghan legislator Hamidullah Tokhi tells The New York Times. But it still drives home the message that the U.S. and NATO have no respect for the Afghan people and their traditions. And that's exactly the kind of thing that drives people "to go to the mountains and join the Taliban."
"U.S. condemns photos of soldiers posing with body parts"
3. Fair or not, this tarnishes America's image
Soldiers "on both sides" take ghastly photos of fallen troops, says Bing West at National Review. The Taliban, for instance, have posted plenty of photos of America's war dead on YouTube. And comparatively, our troops' "overall conduct" since 9/11 stacks up "favorably with overall conduct in any previous war." Still, the "ubiquity of the digital camera/video" makes our current troops seem far worse than they actually are. That "damages our standing in Afghanistan and in the world," which "has to drive our commanders nuts."