"Chilling", "surprising" and "hallucinatory". These are some of the words used to describe one particular photo from the French/Malian conflict taken by AFP photographer Issouf Sanogo.
The picture has inspired thousands of comments across the blogosphere and has induced the ire of the leadership of the French expeditionary force in Mali.
French military top brass were not, it seems,over-enthused at the appearance of one of its soldiers – a legionnaire – in a “death’s head” mask while on duty in an overseas military operation; looking like a ghost character from the computer game “Call of Duty”. A real soldier going into battle dressed like a hero in one of his computer games?
One could be forgiven for thinking that the photograph was a carefully-choreographed cover shoot for an action film or a video game but the circumstances of the photo were somewhat more banal than that, according to Sanogo. He explained that the French troops were trying to protect their faces from the huge clouds of dust created by a helicopter that was landing.
“I spotted this soldier who was wearing a curious-looking scarf and I took the photo. At the time, I didn’t find anything unusual or shocking about the scene. The soldier didn’t pose. There was no setting up involved in this image.”
French military chiefs, meanwhile, are left red-faced by the ghostly visage and are keen to identify the infamous trooper.