It would be irresponsible to make too much of the photos of American troops posing with dead Afghan insurgents published today in the Los Angeles Times. This is not My Lai or even Abu Ghraib. The killings themselves, as far as we know, were legitimate. In war, that's not a trivial accomplishment.
But the incident is a blot on the reputation of American military personnel, the vast majority of whom conduct themselves with restraint and decorum. It's also a symptom of the brutal, unforgiving nature of the Afghan conflict, a counterinsurgency war against an enemy who can blend with the populace that is extremely alien to us -- and often hostile.
Also embarrassing was the reaction of the Pentagon, whose press secretary criticized the Times for publishing the pictures, because they "could be used by the enemy to incite violence against U.S. and Afghan service members."
Maybe so, but that's really the fault of the soldiers who committed the transgresssions. Once the shameful behavior was discovered (thanks to a leak by a disgusted GI), it would have been wrong for the Times to shield Americans from it.
These soldiers are our agents, and the public has a right to know what they are doing in this war -- both bad and good. So, by the way, do our Afghan allies.
The incident drew a wise comment from Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, who said, "Our presence by its very nature creates tension between us and the local population. Past a certain point, a foreign presence is as destabilizing as it is stabilizing."
What's obvious is that we have passed that point.
U.S. troops, Afghan corpses
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