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Afghan leader condemns US troop photos

KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned photographs of U.S. soldiers posing with the bloodied remains of three suicide bombers as "disgusting" and said Thursday that only a quicker exit of international forces can prevent such missteps.

Karzai joined top American officials in denouncing that 2-year-old photos, the latest in a string of embarrassing controversies that have jeopardized relations between the two countries in the midst of negotiations over the withdrawal of foreign troops.

He also warned that "similar incidents of an odious nature" in the past sparked angry reactions from Afghans, including violent protests that left dozens dead, although there was no immediate sign of a popular backlash.

The photos were published in Wednesday's Los Angeles Times. One shows members of the 82nd Airborne Division posing in 2010 with Afghan police holding the severed legs of a suicide bomber. The same platoon a few months later was sent to investigate the remains of three insurgents reported to have accidentally blown themselves up - and soldiers again posed and mugged for a photo with the remains, the newspaper said.

A photo from the second incident appears to show the hand of a dead insurgent resting on a U.S. soldier's shoulder as the soldier smiles.

"It is such a disgusting act to take photos with body parts and then share it with others," Karzai said. "The only way to put an end to such painful experiences is through an accelerated and full transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces."

The Afghan government is currently scheduled to start taking the lead in security in 2013 and fully take over by the end of 2014 when the majority of international combat troops leave. It was not clear what Karzai meant by an "accelerated" transition. Karzai has previously talked about speeding up the handover only to later explain that he meant sticking to the agreed timetable.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid also called the pictures disrespectful. He condemned both the U.S. soldiers involved in the pictures and the Afghan police also featured in them.

"We strongly condemn these occupiers and their puppets who are without culture, who are brutal and inhuman," Mujahid said. "Next to these occupiers there are some Afghans - puppets - who were ordered to stand next to the bodies of the martyrs."

On Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta apologized and expressed concern the gruesome photos could incite fresh violence against Americans. The White House also called them "reprehensible."

Afghans have had mixed reactions to scandals involving American troops in recent months, including the burning of Muslim holy books, urinating on Afghan corpses and an alleged massacre of 17 Afghan villagers.

After the burning of the Qurans in February, large-scale demonstrations turned violent, leaving more than 30 Afghan civilians and six Americans dead. However, few protests occurred after a video in January when U.S. Marines were found to have recorded themselves urinating on the bodies of dead Afghans.

Many Afghan lawmakers played down the possibility that the newly revealed photos would spark mass protests, saying the general population has little sympathy for suicide bombers, who frequently kill civilians as well as foreign and Afghan security forces. One bomber detonated his explosives-filled vest at the entrance of a mosque in Kabul on Dec. 6, 2011, killing 80 worshippers during the Shiite Muslim rituals of Ashoura. It was the single deadliest suicide attack since 2008.

"It is different from an American soldier going and killing children, or Americans burning holy Qurans. These issues and the suicide bombers are completely different," said Hafiz Mansour, a lawmaker from the northern province of Panjshir.

Several broadcasters mentioned the photos on evening newscasts, but not everyone in Afghanistan owns a television and very few have access to the Internet. No newspapers were published on Thursday and Friday, the Afghan weekend.

Mohammad Naim Lalai Hamidzai, a parliamentarian from southern Kandahar, said protests would only erupt if somebody tried to organize them.

"The burning of Qurans and the killing of children create emotions in people, but there is no sympathy for suicide bombers who kill innocent people," Hamidzai said.

But some in Kandahar city worried that it would give the Taliban justification for more attacks.

"I don't think people will display outrage because these were not normal people, but this kind of thing can mean more Taliban attacks," said Abdul Ghulam Haidari, a restaurant owner.