Grisly images: The Los Angeles Times on Wednesday published photographs depicting U.S. soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division posing with the severed limbs of dead Afghan insurgents in Zabul Province in 2010, images which are likely to worsen the damaged trust between the Afghan population and international troops (LAT, NYT, Reuters, AP ). The soldier who provided the photographs did so on condition of anonymity, and because he believes the breakdown in leadership in discipline poses a safety risk to American troops on the ground.
U.S. officials condemned the soldiers' actions, with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta promising that those responsible would be punished, but also expressing "regret" that the LA Times published the photographs against the Pentagon's wishes (LAT, Post, AFP, BBC, NYT, CNN, AJE, Guardian). President Barack Obama ordered a formal investigation into the photographs. The Taliban also denounced the "brutal and inhuman act," and promised to avenge the dead militants, in a statement released Thursday (AFP). And Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday that the photographs are "disgusting," and the fact that they were ever taken and shared is "odious" (AP, Reuters).
Meanwhile, in Brussels, NATO defense officials agreed Wednesday on a plan to wrap up the war in Afghanistan, though critical details such as the source of billions of dollars in funding for Afghan security forces after NATO's withdrawal remained unaddressed (NYT, Post, AFP, Reuters, AP). The United Kingdom was the only nation to put a number on the aid it expects to give Afghanistan after 2014, but the other NATO member countries plan to make concrete pledges next month, preferably before the May 20 conference in Chicago on Afghanistan (Reuters, Reuters).
NATO officials insisted Wednesday that there is no "rush to the exit" in Afghanistan, despite Australia's announcement on Tuesday that its troops could pull out a year earlier than planned (Tel, CNN). And Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov harshly criticized NATO's withdrawal plans, arguing that international forces should stay in Afghanistan until Afghan troops and police are fully able to take responsibility for the country's security (AP).
Pulling no punches
U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker flatly admitted that "there is no question" in the minds of U.S. officials that the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network was behind Sunday's highly coordinated attacks in Kabul, and said the United States is "pressing the Pakistanis very hard on this" (AP, Reuters).
Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said Wednesday during a visit to the site of a massive avalanche on Siachen glacier that buried over 100 Pakistani soldiers that he is in favor of demilitarizing what has become known as the world's highest battlefield (ET). Siachen is located on the northern tip of Kashmir, to which both India and Pakistan lay claim. Indian Minister of State for Defense, MM Pallam Raju, welcomed Gen. Kayani's statement on Thursday, while Pakistani Foreign Ministry Spokesman Moazzam Ahmad Khan said Indian and Pakistani officials are in the process of scheduling another round of negotiations over the disputed glacier (ET, Dawn).
The deportation from Pakistan of three of Osama bin Laden's widows and their nine children could take a few more days, as Pakistani authorities coordinate with the Yemeni and Saudi Arabian governments to finalize the agreement (CNN, Reuters, ET). And a Pakistani intelligence document reportedly reveals that Tehreek-e-Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud convened a meeting in North Waziristan in February to plan attacks on prominent officials if NATO ground supply routes through Pakistan are reopened (ET).
-- Jennifer Rowland