The photo is quite striking, to be sure.
Agence France Press photographer Issouf Sanogo writes that when he was with French soldiers in central Mali on Sunday, "a helicopter was coming in to land and churning up tremendous dust clouds. Instinctively, all the soldiers grabbed their scarfs to avoid getting a mouthful of sand."
Sanogo started taking pictures.
"I spotted this soldier wearing a strange scarf," he adds on AFP's Behind The News blog. "At the time, nothing about the scene seemed especially unusual or shocking. The soldier wasn't posing and there was nothing staged about the image."
But later, when the photo was distributed to news outlets around the world and started to go viral, the grinning skeleton image on that scarf didn't sit well with French military officials. It's too much like something from Call of Duty for them. As AFP adds:
"The military command reacted angrily to the picture, with a top-brass spokesman in Paris calling the soldier's behaviour 'unacceptable.'
" 'This image is not representative of France's action in Mali,' the spokesman, Colonel Thierry Burkhard, said at a news conference, adding the army was working to identify the masked man."
French soldiers are in Mali, as NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has been reporting, to assist that nation's government in its battle against al-Qaida linked Islamist fighters.