1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Afghan Skull Photos

DW staff (sms)
December 16, 2006

Seven German soldiers are facing courts-martial over photographs that show troops posing and playing with human skulls while stationed in Afghanistan, according to the Defense Ministry.

Seven soldiers face court-martial while six others have been suspended from dutyImage: AP

The soldiers, five of whom are still among active troops while two are in the reserves, will be charged with bringing the Bundeswehr into disrepute and risking the lives of their fellow soldiers serving with the NATO-led force in Afghanistan.

The ministry said Friday that 5,500 soldiers had been questioned in an internal inquiry into the scandal that broke in October when German media splashed photographs of soldiers on duty in Afghanistan striking sometimes obscene poses with human skulls and bones.

Bundeswehr in Afghanistan Panzer
Criminal charges were dropped against all the soldiersImage: AP

The soldiers could face demotion and pay cuts if found guilty. Four other lower-ranking soldiers avoided courts-martial when it became clear that superiors did not hinder them from posing with the human remains.

State prosecutors opened criminal investigations against 23 soldiers but have decided not to charge any of them. Six soldiers have been suspended from the military over the pictures.

The prosecutor's office in Munich last week said two of the main culprits in the affair had taken human remains from a lime field outside Kabul, rather than from a cemetery, and could therefore not be charged with desecrating graves.

It said the area near the Afghan capital was strewn with skeletons, presumably those of Russian soldiers who died during the Soviet occupation of the central Asian country in the 1980s.

Bundeswehr training to be altered

Bundeswehr General Inspector Wolfgang Schneiderhan said he intended to make changes in ethical and moral training given to middle and high-ranking officers as a consequence of the so-called skull scandal.

Bundeswehr Afghanistan Weißbuch 2006 Verteidigungsminister und Generalinspekteur
Defense Minister Jung, left, and Bundeswehr head SchneiderhanImage: AP

"Overall, our training is good and appropriate," he said Friday in an interview with the online version of Die Welt newspaper. "The young superiors have to have the courage to intervene when mistakes are made, even when it is not easy."

Schneiderhan also submitted a three-page report to German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung, outlining how he intended to prevent similar occurrences in the future. Schneiderhan, however, also said that the Bundeswehr should not be considered a "school for the country."

"Obviously the internalization of morals laid out in the constitution are no longer an obvious result of parental and school education," he said. "We in the Bundeswehr are not a school for the nation. We cannot correct the mistakes that have probably been made over many years."

Germany has 2,750 peacekeepers serving with the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and commands the section of the force operating in the north of the country.

Skip next section Explore more