The skull affair has cast a pall over the Bundeswehr's mission in AfghanistanImage: AP
DW staff (jc)
October 31, 2006
The Bundeswehr said three of its soldiers have owned up to posing for pictures with human skulls in Afghanistan, but questions remain as to what the military knew about the scandal and when.
For the first time since the pictures appeared last week, the Bundeswehr have admitted involvement with the macabre photos showing soldiers in a variety of disrespectful poses with human skulls.
"Those responsible have made a full confession," General Christof Munzlinger, commander of the Bundeswehr's 18th Armored Brigade, told the daily Lübecker Nachrichten newspaper on Tuesday. "They expressed their regret and contrition about the incident."
Munzlinger declined to give any details about the identity of the three soldiers other than to say that there was no evidence to support initial suspicions that junior officers had been involved.
"What is clear is that they failed in their duty," Munzlinger said. "The Bundeswehr's reputation has suffered massive damage, and the danger posed to our troops in Afghanistan is unpardonable."
The photos caused outrage in Germany and abroad when they were published earlier in October by a German tabloid and a German TV station. The Bundeswehr is currently investigating a total of 20 active and former soldiers. Two soldiers have been suspended from duty in connection with the affair.
Bus trips to view human remains?
The photos are thought to have been taken in early 2003, according to a report in the Stuttgarter Zeitung newspaper. Afghan workers discovered the human remains, which likely come from the period of either the British or the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, while extracting construction materials from a gravel or clay pit.
Citing a soldier formerly stationed in Afghanistan as its source, the newspaper also reported that bus trips were organized for soldiers and visitors from Germany to see the bones.
Opposition politicians are putting increasing pressure on the Defense Ministry to bring the affair to an end. On Monday, the co-leader of the Green party, Claudia Roth, called upon German Defense Minister Franz-Josef Jung to travel as quickly as possible to the Afghan capital and officially apologize for the photos.
Parliamentary doubts growing
Meanwhile, the leader of the Free Democrats, Guido Westerwelle, called in a television interview for mandatory military service to be scrapped in favor of a professional army. The photos, Westerwelle said, showed that the Bundeswehr in its current form was out of its depth.
An interview, published in the daily newspaper Die Welt on Tuesday, with a former Bundeswehr soldier in Afghanistan, supported Westerwelle's argument. The soldier, who preferred to remain anonymous, said he felt that Bundeswehr field commanders were often too young and too inexperienced to maintain discipline among troops.