‘Toxic leadership culture’: Germany shakes up elite army force over far-right links

German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said Tuesday she has ordered the partial dissolution of the elite KSK commando force, which has come under growing criticism over right-wing extremism in its ranks.

'Toxic leadership culture': Germany shakes up elite army force over far-right links
KSK forces in training in Magdeburg in 2017. Photo: DPA

The KSK had “become partially independent” from the chain of command, with a “toxic leadership culture” meaning it “cannot continue to exist in its present form,” Kramp-Karrenbauer told the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

That meant it “cannot continue to exist in its present form”.

One of the force's four companies, where extremism was said to be the most rife, would be dissolved and not replaced, the minister said.

The KSK's overall commander Markus Kreitmayr will remain in place, but the unit will not participate in exercises or international missions until the restructuring is complete.

Kramp-Karrenbauer described the latest findings about the KSK — including the disappearance of 48,000 rounds of ammunition and 62 kilogrammes of explosives — as “disturbing” and “alarming”.

An internal investigation must now determine whether the missing munitions were stolen or whether it is down to sloppy bookkeeping at the unit.

The elite commando force is charged with sensitive and risky missions such as hostage rescue operations or anti-terror action abroad.

But suspicions that some members harbour far-right extremist sympathies have plagued the force in recent years, even as Germany has been hit by a wave of extreme-right violence including deadly attacks on migrants, Jewish people and politicians.

In April 2017, revellers at a farewell party for a KSK commander allegedly threw pig heads, played right-wing rock music and made the Nazi salute.

Kramp-Karrenbauer set up a working group to tackle the problem in May, and its progress will be assessed in October.

Germany's Military Counter-Intelligence Service (MAD) has said some 600 Bundeswehr soldiers were suspected of right-wing extremism, including 20 in the elite force.

The armed forces have in recent years suffered a series of revelations over embarrassing associations with Germany's militaristic past.

In 2018, the then-defence minister Ursula von der Leyen ordered the military to cleanse itself of all links to the Wehrmacht after learning that steel helmets and memorabilia of the Nazi-era army were openly displayed at one of its barracks.

She also ordered some barracks still named after World War II figures to be renamed.

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New army scandal: Germany vows to punish soldiers caught singing anti-Semitic songs

Germany's Defence Minister on Tuesday vowed to severely punish soldiers stationed in Lithuania who were accused of singing racist and anti-Semitic songs, if the allegations turned out to be true.

New army scandal: Germany vows to punish soldiers caught singing anti-Semitic songs
German soldiers training in Saxony-Anhalt in May. credit: dpa-Zentralbild | Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert

“Whatever happened is in no way acceptable,” said Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

Those implicated would be “vigorously prosecuted and punished”, she added.

The Spiegel Online news site had on Monday reported that German soldiers in Lithuania sang racist and anti-Semitic songs during a party at a hotel in April.

One had also sought to sexually assault another soldier while he was asleep, a scene which was caught on film, said Spiegel.

According to Spiegel Online, the scenes took place at a party at which soldiers consumed large quantities of alcohol. They are also alleged to have arranged a “birthday table” for Adolf Hitler on April 20th and to have sung songs for him.

It is unclear to what extent more senior ranked soldiers were aware of the incidents.

Three soldiers have been removed from the contingent stationed in the Baltic country and an investigation is ongoing to identify other suspects, said the report.

The German armed forces have been repeatedly rocked by allegations of right-wing extremism within their ranks.

Kramp-Karrenbauer last year ordered the partial dissolution of the KSK commando force after revelations that some of its members harboured neo-Nazi sympathies.

SEE ALSO: Germany to compensate gay soldiers who faced discrimination