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German elite army force must change after far-right links

July 1, 2020

Germany's defense minister has said the Special Forces Command (KSK) will not be immediately disbanded over far-right extremist links. Instead, she urged soldiers to change the elite unit from the inside out.

Deutschland Bundewehr | Kommando Spezialkräfte KSK | Schleswig-Holstein
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Rehder

How right-wing is the Bundeswehr?

Germany's Special Forces Command (KSK) will not immediately be completely disbanded over far-right links, but given a short time to show it can change from within, German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced on Wednesday.

In the wake of numerous revelations of far-right activity among the KSK's ranks, a task force was asked to urgently investigate. Announcing the results alongside Bundeswehr Chief of Defense Eberhard Zorn, Kramp-Karrenbauer said the unit would be given time to put its own house in order.

"The analysis concludes that the KSK cannot persist in its current form. That it must be changed from the inside out and that it must be better reintegrated into the Bundeswehr."

"We will give the KSK time to press the reset button," said the minister.

German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer speaks during a news conference
Defense Minister Kramp-Karrenbauer has offered the KSK time to show it can changeImage: Reuters/F. Bensch

Kramp-Karrenbauer had already announced structural reforms of the KSK unit, which include the dissolution of one of its four combat companies. She warned that, should the KSK fail to make sufficient progress by the end of October, it would be disbanded as a whole.

"If we let things go on then the danger is indeed great that we will have a real structural problem for the future," she said.

The KSK has been part of the German Army since 1996. The group focuses on anti-terrorism operations and hostage rescues from hostile areas. Its members have served in Afghanistan and the Balkans, but its operations are kept secret.

Author and Bundeswehr expert Thomas Wiegold told DW that the minister was "trying to get rid of those toxic parts in this unit without disbanding the unit as a whole, without destroying the capability they need."

Read more: Germany to sack extremist soldiers — and faster

The extremism allegations go as far back as 2017, when KSK members at a commander's farewell party allegedly threw pig heads, played right-wing rock music and performed the Nazi salute.

A report by Germany's Military Counterintelligence Service (MAD) in January revealed that 500 soldiers in the German military were being investigated for right-wing extremism.

MAD noted that 20 of the suspected right-wing extremism cases currently being processed were within the KSK. In relation to the number of personnel, this was five times the proportion in the rest of the Bundeswehr.

Read more: New figures on extremism in German military 'tip of the iceberg'

In May, police seized explosives and weapons at the home of a KSK soldier. Kramp-Karrenbauer had previously described the disappearance of 48,000 rounds of ammunition and 62 kilograms of explosives as "disturbing" and "alarming."

Richard Connor Reporting on stories from around the world, with a particular focus on Europe — especially Germany.