After an officer in the Bundeswehr (German army) was arrested last week on charges he had planned a terror attack with far-right motives, von der Leyen has lashed out at the German military.
Speaking on Sunday to broadcaster ZDF, the Defence Minister said that “the Bundeswehr has an attitude problem, and it clearly has a weakness of leadership on several levels.”
The comments came as von der Leyen wrote an open letter to people associated with the Bundeswehr, claiming that the arrest was no one-off.
In late April von der Leyen, from Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), made headlines by firing the army’s head of training after several scandals emerged connected to bullying and sexual abuse in Bundeswehr training camps.
But the Armed Forces Association fired back on Monday, with spokesman André Wüstner describing von der Leyen's comments as “unbelievable.”
“No one can understand how a Defence Minister can walk away from the match and criticize her own team, so to speak,” Wüstner told broadcaster MDR.
“Politicians specializing in the army, people in the army, family members and soldiers on duty abroad - everyone is outraged at this generalization.
“I expect her to shed detailed light on the accusation that the whole army has a leadership and attitude problem,” he added.
Rainer Arnold, military spokesman for the Social Democrats (SPD), demanded that von der Leyen apologize.
“That she accuses the whole army of having an attitude problem leaves me speechless. Every honest soldier feels insulted,” Arnold said.
The SPD politician argued that the Bundeswehr was struggling to deal sufficiently with cases of right-wing extremism in its ranks, but laid the blame on the CDU.
“The Defence Minister should have been working against this for a long time.”