BRUSSELS/WASHINGTON - US troops are seen posing with the maimed bodies of suspected Afghan insurgents in photos published on Wednesday, an incident that threatened to further fray US-Afghan ties and prompted yet another apology from Washington for soldiers' misbehavior.
In one of the pictures, a US paratrooper posed next to an unofficial patch placed beside a body that read "Zombie Hunter," while in another photo soldiers posed with Afghan police holding the severed legs of an insurgent bomber.
Two soldiers in another photo held a dead insurgent's hand with the middle finger raised.
US officials quickly condemned the behavior seen in the pictures published by the Los Angeles Times.
While it was too soon to say whether the photos - which date from 2010 - would cause a violent backlash in Afghanistan, they extend a series of events that have embarrassed the White House and complicated US President Barack Obama's South Asia strategy.
In recent months, a video circulated of Marines urinating on corpses that were apparently those of Afghan insurgents; US troops burned copies of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, prompting riots; and a US soldier left his base in a rural province and allegedly slaughtered 17 Afghan civilians.
In neighboring Pakistan, relations sunk to a new low after a disputed November incident in which a US airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Washington has not apologized in that case.
During a meeting of NATO allies in Brussels on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta apologized for the latest incident "on behalf of the Department of Defense and the US government" and said "that behavior is unacceptable."
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One as Obama flew to Ohio for an economic speech, "The conduct depicted in those photos is reprehensible."
Carney said Obama was briefed on the matter but he did not know whether the president had seen the photos, which the Los Angeles Times said it received from a soldier.
The incident dealt another blow to already tense US and NATO ties with Afghanistan.
"That behavior that was depicted in those photos absolutely violates both our regulations and more importantly our core values," Panetta told a news conference, adding that the pictures were under investigation.
"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," he added. "I'm not excusing that behavior, but neither do I want these images to bring further injury to our people and to our relationship with the Afghan people."