Thursday, October 26, 2006
"PHOTOGRAPHS of German soldiers holding up a bleached skull, apparently of an Afghan fighter, sparked outrage across Berlin yesterday as the Government debated the scope of future deployments overseas.
Reaction to the pictures, published in the mass-circulation newspaper Bild, could tip the public mood against further German military missions abroad.
The cabinet was due to hold a special session to discuss the evolving role of the German army in an attempt to strike a balance between defence of the homeland, NATO membership and overseas missions. But the meeting was overshadowed by the images of the German soldiers desecrating human remains.
One picture shows the skull balanced on the headlight of an armoured car.
In another, two soldiers are sitting on the bonnet of a Mercedes jeep with the skull jammed on to a cable-cutting device.
Most shocking is the image of a soldier holding his penis next to the mouth of the skull.
"We are investigating this as a matter of urgency," said Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung.
"It is obvious that this kind of behaviour cannot be tolerated from a German soldier."
The photographs appear to have been taken three years ago. The fact that they were leaked now - at a moment when the Afghan mandate is to be renewed by a parliamentary vote - suggests a political motive.
The skull is assumed to be that of an Afghan, perhaps retrieved from a mass grave.
"This is something that could be used by the Taliban or other groups as a hate device to stir up sentiment against our troops."
There are 2730 German soldiers in Afghanistan. Their mission is to protect the reconstruction of wells, roads and schools and to guard public buildings.
The Germans have, however, been under pressure to do more. But there is a growing resistance in parliament even to renewing the current Afghan mission.
Germans are worried that the missions abroad are brutalising the army. There are about 9000 troops overseas in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Congo - although there are none in Iraq.
For the past 60 years, German soldiers - wanting to underline the difference with the Nazi years - have been regarded as the least warrior-like in NATO. Now there is a new toughness and Germans are not really sure they approve."