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US condemns troops who allegedly posed with dead suicide bombers in Afghanistan

Updated at 2 p.m. ET:  KABUL: The Los Angeles Times published photos showing U.S. troops posing with the body parts of dead suicide bombers in Afghanistan on Wednesday, prompting condemnations from American officials even before the pictures were posted on the newspaper's website. 

A total of 18 pictures showing soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division were taken in 2010 and given to the Times by a soldier who served with the 82nd Airborne's 4th Brigade Combat Team from Ft. Bragg, N.C., the newspaper reported. Only two of the 18 photos appeared on the site.

In an apparent attempt at damage control, the commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan said in a statement -- issued before the photographs and story appeared on the Times' site -- that he condemned the apparent actions of U.S. personnel in the pictures.

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"The commander of the International Security Assistance Force, Gen. John R. Allen, strongly condemns the actions depicted in photos released by LA Times that appear to show U.S. Army personnel posing with the bodies of insurgents who killed themselves in suicide attacks in 2010," NATO said in a statement, according to NBC News.

"The actions of the individuals photographed do not represent the policies of ISAF or the U.S. Army," Allen said.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Wednesday also condemned the photos. In addition, he made a point to slam the L.A. Times for publishing them, saying he regrets that they were ever made public. 

"This is war and I know that war is ugly and it's violent and I know that young people sometimes caught up in the moment make some very foolish decisions," Panetta said. "I am not excusing that. I am not excusing that behavior but neither do I want these images to bring further injury to our people or to our relationship with the Afghan people." Panetta said.

"We had urged the LA Times not to run those photos. The reason for that is those kinds of photos are used by the enemy to incite violence and lives have been lost as a result of the publications of similar photos in the past. We regret that they were published," Panetta said.

In an earlier statement issued by the Pentagon, Panetta said: "These images by no means represent the values or professionalism of the vast majority of U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan today.

Panetta said an investigation that could lead to disciplinary measures is underway.

The news comes at a time of growing sensitivity over the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan after a series of damaging and embarrassing incidents involving U.S. troops. 

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In January, a video surfaced showing U.S. Marines urinating on Taliban corpses and then came widespread uproar in Afghanistan over the burning of copies of the Quran at the main American base in the country.

Then on March 17 people, mostly children and women, were killed in two villages of Kandahar province in an unexplained shooting rampage blamed on a U.S. soldier. At the time, Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for NATO forces to pull out of rural areas and stay in their bases, saying he was at the "end of the rope."

A spike in so-called green-on-blue attacks -- by Afghan army and police on U.S. and other foreign forces -- has stoked concern that some of that anger is spilling over into the security forces and turning them against their Western allies.

The Pentagon said it was investigating Wednesday's incident, which could lead to disciplinary measures.

"Anyone found responsible for this inhuman conduct will be held accountable in accordance with our military justice system,” the statement said.

"The danger is that this material could be used by the enemy to incite violence against U.S. and Afghan service members in Afghanistan. U.S. forces in the country are taking security measures to guard against it," it added.

A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai declined to comment on the report, telling NBC News it would be inappropriate to do so for the time being. 

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker also condemned the actions depicted in photos.

NBC News and Reuters contributed to this report.

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