Germany’s military has suspended two soldiers from duty in connection with photos of troops posing with a skull in Afghanistan, the defense minister said Friday.
The pictures, published in the daily newspaper Bild, have provoked widespread expressions of disgust and triggered a review of training for foreign deployments.
They have also raised concern that militants in Afghanistan and elsewhere could seize on the pictures to justify attacks on German soldiers or facilities.
State prosecutors in Munich as well as the military are investigating.
“Our interest is in getting clarity as soon as possible,” Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said at a news conference. He expressed the hope the photos would not endanger the 2,750 German troops in Afghanistan.
Bild says the pictures were taken in early 2003; they show soldiers posing with the skull on the hood of their vehicle and one soldier exposing himself next to the skull. Four former soldiers are also under investigation.
Jung said that three other soldiers were under investigation in connection with more photos shown Thursday on RTL television and reportedly taken in 2004.
The RTL photographs show one soldier balancing a skull on his biceps and the skull placed on the hood of a vehicle. The soldiers’ faces are obscured.
Jung repeated that any soldier involved had “no place” in the German military, or Bundeswehr, and said officials would examine whether officers turned a blind eye to troops taking such photos.
Envoy to Afghanistan
In addition to a review of training, Jung said he was sending the military’s chief training official to Afghanistan to review the motivation and discipline of German soldiers there.
The pictures have caused dismay in part because German leaders portray the country as a “power for peace” and describe its soldiers as “citizens in uniform” whose training is supposed to exclude such excesses.
The minister said the incidents should not discredit the entire Bundeswehr, which also serves in the Balkans, Sudan, Djibouti, Congo and Lebanon.
The Afghan government said Thursday is was “deeply saddened” over the pictures.