Defense Secretary Leon Panetta apologized Wednesday over newly published photos that appear to show U.S. troops posing with the mangled bodies of insurgents in Afghanistan, as the White House condemned the conduct shown in the images.
"That behavior that was depicted in those photos absolutely violates both our regulations and more importantly our core values," Panetta said.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney also called the conduct "reprehensible," and said President Obama wants an investigation.
The strong reaction came after the Los Angeles Times released the images Wednesday morning, purporting to show soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division in 2010. One photo showed what appeared to be U.S. troops, some smiling, holding up a pair of severed legs.
The military said Wednesday it has launched an investigation.
"Secretary (Leon) Panetta strongly rejects the conduct depicted in these 2-year-old photographs," Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement. "These images by no means represent the values or professionalism of the vast majority of U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan today."
Little said the probe could lead to "disciplinary measures," and that "anyone found responsible for this inhuman conduct will be held accountable in accordance with our military justice system."
Little also said Panetta was "disappointed" that the Los Angeles Times published the photos, as "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," he said.
The Times published a couple photos, but claims to have 18 in its possession. According to the article, the photos were provided by an American soldier worried about a possible breakdown in leadership.
The Times reported that the photo of the severed legs was taken after U.S. soldiers arrived at a police station on orders to identify the body of a suicide bomber.
The same platoon reportedly inspected the remains of three more insurgents a few months later -- and again posed next to the bodies.
U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker also released a statement early Wednesday condemning the alleged actions.
"The U.S. Embassy strongly condemns the actions depicted in photos recently made public, which appear to show members of the U.S. military committing disrespectful acts with the bodies of insurgents, killed in their own suicide attacks in 2010," he said. "Such actions are morally repugnant, dishonor the sacrifices of hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers and civilians who have served with distinction in Afghanistan, and do not represent the core values of the United States or our military."
The incident marks the latest problem for the U.S. military in Afghanistan. A video surfaced earlier in the year appearing to show U.S. troops urinating on bodies. The burning of Korans at a U.S. base in Afghanistan later fueled widespread and deadly riots -- following that, a U.S. soldier was accused of going on a killing spree that left 17 Afghans dead.
Outside of Afghanistan, the U.S. military, as well as the Secret Service, is reeling from a prostitution scandal in Colombia. Sources say 10 U.S. military service members were involved in that incident, and top military officials have said they are embarrassed over the alleged misconduct.