Gruesome photographs appearing to show a British serviceman in a celebratory pose next to a dead Afghan have prompted an investigation by the Ministry of Defence.
In one photograph, a British soldier with a cigarette in his mouth is kneeling by the body of a dead Taliban fighter and giving the thumbs up. Another shows a British soldier smiling, cradling his rifle in one arm while giving the thumbs up to the camera as he kneels next to the head of a dead Taliban fighter laid out on the ground.
The graphic pictures were taken in the aftermath of a Taliban attack on Camp Bastion, the main British base in Afghanistan, in 2012. The MoD confirmed that they had been brought to the attention of defence officials last month and that military police are investigating.
Two US marines were killed in the September 2012 attack by 15 Taliban fighters. 16 British and American soldiers were wounded and six US Harrier jets destroyed in the night-time attack - the biggest loss of US aircraft in a single day since the Vietnam War.
Security at the base was the responsibility of British officers on the night of the attack, and members of 51 Squadron RAF regiment, part of the RAF Force Protection Wing, were sent to fight off the attackers. Group Captain Jeff Portlock, the Bastion base commander on the night of the attack, has since been promoted to Air Commodore. He now commands UK Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (Istar) at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire.
An RAF spokesman said it had a "zero-tolerance policy on the mistreatment of deceased enemy personnel" and this case was being treated "extremely seriously".
They added: "We can confirm that the incident is currently subject to an ongoing RAF Police investigation and therefore, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time." Two RAF Regiment members have already been withdrawn from frontline duties, according to the BBC report.
News of the disturbing images emerged after the BBC ran some of the pictures on its website. They had been taken from liveleak.com, where they were posted last month.
The scandal is the latest in a series of controversial incidents involving coalition forces posing with the bodies of dead Afghan fighters. Pictures of US soldiers posing with the remains of dead suicide bombers emerged in 2012. The conduct of the soldiers was branded “reprehensible” by US President Barack Obama, and condemned by Afghan President Hamid Karzai as “disgusting.” And the previous year, US soldiers were filmed urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters in Helmand – actions which President Karzai condemned as “inhuman”.