Some soldiers in photo scandal back in Afghanistan

(CBS News) THE PENTAGON - Military leaders are in clean-up mode after pictures surfaced of soldiers posing with dead suicide attackers in Afghanistan.

The government is worried that the photos will spark new attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

The photos show American paratroopers mugging for the camera over the dismembered remains of enemy suicide bombers.

The White House called them "reprehensible."

Army officials still don't know the identity of the soldier who gave the photos to the Los Angeles Times.

It is a violation of orders to either take or possess photos of the dead, so he could be in trouble if he's ever identified.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai called the photos "inhuman" on Thursday, according to Reuters.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta apologized for the actions of the troops in and who took the pictures, actions he said were the consequence of a tough and dirty war.

"I know that young people sometimes, caught up in the moment, make some very foolish decisions," Panetta said. " ... I'm 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."

The pictures, which were taken two years ago, show paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division. Many have already been identified and are under investigation. Some are currently deployed in Afghanistan.

A soldier gave the photos to the Times as evidence of a discipline breakdown within the 82nd that endangered troops.

The paper decided to publish them despite pleas from the Pentagon.

"Lives have been lost as a result of the publication of similar photos in the past," Panetta said, "so we regret that they were published."

They are the latest in a string of blows to the American image in Afghanistan. In January, a video surfaced of Marine snipers urinating on dead bodies. There was also the inadvertent burning of the Quran, which set off anti-American protests, and the infamous case of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, charged with murdering 17 Afghan civilians last month.

Pete Hegseth, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, says publishing the pictures only helps the enemy. "This is broadcast throughout the world now, and used directly against our troops as propaganda and motivation to take them on," he said.

Army officers say the Times actually delayed publication of the photos to give the Pentagon time to warn both the Afghan government and U.S. troops in the field that the photos were coming and could trigger anti-American violence.

To see David Martin's report, click on the video in the player above.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.