Bad Behavior in Afghanistan Macabre Photos Disgrace German Military

Five photos threaten to stain the German military's reputation just as the country debates its role in international security operations. The images, showing German soldiers posing with a skull near Kabul, have sparked outrage from the government and may increase public reluctance to keep troops abroad.

The photos are unmistakably crass, ranging from a shot of a skull mounted over the headlight of a jeep to a close-up of a soldier holding his penis in his left hand and the skull next to it in his right. These are just two of five photos published Wednesday by the German daily Bild, showing members of German security forces in Afghanistan desecrating human remains evidently found while on patrol near Kabul. Two other photos show the skull affixed to a metal pole -- a "cable cutter" -- that extends vertically like a flag mast from the jeep's front bumper. Another shows a German soldier holding the skull and grinning.

The origin of the skull is not clear. Bild speculates it could come from a Muslim mass grave in the area, or that it could belong to one of many Russian soldiers who died fighting in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Regardless of where it comes from, the damage is done.

A chorus of voices has emerged from the government to express disgust at the photos. German Defense Minister, Franz Josef Jung told reporters: "It is clear and unmistakable that this kind of behavior from German soldiers cannot be tolerated." He added "This behavior is diametrically opposed to the values and behavior we teach and train our soldiers in. The pictures provoke disgust and absolute incomprehension."

The photos couldn't come at a worse time. On Wednesday, the Bundestag's defense committee will discuss the case of Murat Kurnaz, the Turkish-born German resident who was released this summer from the the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay and has since accused German elite soldiers of abusing him in Afghanistan's Kandahar region. Also on Wednesday, the government announced that it is to extend its commitment to the anti-terror Operation Enduring Freedom, but that the number of German troops in Afghanistan will be reduced from 2,800 to 1,800.

Evidence that German soldiers may be participating in some of the uglier aspects of war may well increase public opposition to the keeping the troops in Afghanistan at all.


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