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Germany to overhaul army unit with far-right ties

June 30, 2020

Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer will disband part of the KSK special forces, a unit linked to far-right extremism. The German military has been grappling with a rise in far-right links among soldiers.

Soldiers in Germany's KSK special forces unit
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Rehder

German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer plans on restructuring the country's Bundeswehr's Special Forces Command (KSK) in the wake of numerous allegations of far-right extremism among its ranks, German media reported on Tuesday. 

According to newspaper Die Welt, Kramp-Karrenbauer will announce structural reforms of the KSK unit, which will include the dissolution of one of its four combat companies. 

Some 70 soldiers would be affected by the changes, Die Welt reported.

Read more: Germany to sack extremist soldiers — and faster

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. 

Today, the KSK has "become partially independent" from the chain of command and developed a "toxic leadership culture," Kramp-Karrenbauer told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. 

She added that as such, the military unit "cannot continue to exist in its present form." 

KSK Chief Commander Markus Kreitmayr is expected to remain in place, but the group will not participate in exercises or international missions until the restructuring is complete.

German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer
Defense Minister Kramp-Karrenbauer said that the unit 'cannot continue to exist in its present form'Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Kahnert

Previous allegations 

The restructuring of the KSK comes as several federal investigations have uncovered links to right-wing extremism, which has worried Berlin. 

Kramp-Karrenbauer formed a team "to try to understand how this happened, why it happened, and what can actually be done," DW correspondent Thomas Sparrow said. The minister is due to unveil 50 proposals, which include the disbandment of one of the commandos.

"It doesn’t mean the end of the special forces. That is something that was discussed, but it was not agreed on," Sparrow added.

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

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.

Troops with Germany's KSK special forces
Hundreds of German soldiers are under investigation for right-wing extremismImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Bundeswehr/F. Nägele

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

In May, an elite soldier assigned to the Bundeswehr's Special Forces Command (KSK) was being investigated for breaching Germany's weapons control law, according to the dpa news agency. 

Weapons and explosives were found on the soldier's private property in the eastern German state of Saxony, according to dpa.

Kramp-Karrenbauer said the latest findings about the KSK, which also included the disappearance of 48,000 rounds of ammunition and 62 kilograms of explosives, were "disturbing" and "alarming." 

jcg/rs (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters) 

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