Command climate becomes increasingly important in the face of the stress of multiple deployments, as troops of the 4th experienced, says Christopher Swift, fellow at the University of Virginia’s Center for National Security Law. Failures in good order and discipline – such US soldiers posing with enemy body parts – can point to “failure of command responsibility,” Dr. Swift adds, “rather than a fundamental pathology on the part of soldiers.”
Failure of leadership has been a recurring theme among US forces in Afghanistan this year.
- In January, it came to light that Marines – including a squad leader – had urinated on the corpses of dead Taliban fighters, videotaping the incident for posterity.
- This was followed closely by charges of insensitivity and possible leadership failure after US service members burned Qurans, sparking a week of riots and the death of six US troops.
- In March came a shooting rampage by a US soldier that left 17 Afghan civilians dead.
For his part, the soldier who leaked the photographs to the Los Angeles Times said that the callous actions of the soldiers were linked in large part to the horrors of war. He told the Times that virtually all of the soldiers who posed in the photographs had buddies who had been killed or wounded during the deployment. The 4th brigade lost 35 soldiers on their year-long tour and was sent again to Afghanistan to begin another deployment in February.
But he also said the photos represented “a breakdown in leadership and discipline that he believed compromised the safety of the troops.”
Revelations of the photographs had senior defense officials once again promising an investigation “that could lead to disciplinary measures.” Said Pentagon spokesman George Little: “Anyone found responsible for this inhuman conduct will be held accountable in accordance with our military justice system.”