German army to suspend elite force member over suspected far-right extremism

Germany's Defence Minister vowed to take "decisive action" against any cases of radicalism in the army, after it emerged that the Bundeswehr is to suspend a member of its elite KSK force on suspicion of far-right extremism.

German army to suspend elite force member over suspected far-right extremism
File photo: DPA

“We have drawn the first consequences in this case and we will continue to act with the same severity and impose the same consequences in every case,” Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said during a visit to Kosovo.

Bild am Sonntag newspaper said the army has been covertly investigating the special forces officer and two other soldiers and was prompted to take action against the man after its probe leaked.

Of the other two suspects, one has been stripped of the right to wear a German army uniform while the other has been classed as a suspicious case.

Both had allegedly made the banned Hitler salute during a private party hosted by the suspect who is to be suspended next week, according to the newspaper.

The elite KSK is charged with sensitive and risky missions including hostage rescue operations or anti-terror action abroad.

But suspicions that some members are far-right leaning have always plagued the force.

The head of the military's counter-intelligence service Christof Gramm had said that there are around 20 suspicious cases at the KSK.

Across the army, however, the number of such cases is as high as 500.

The armed forces has over the years repeatedly come under fire over embarrassing associations with Germany's militaristic past.

Last year, 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 barracks still named after World War II figures, like field marshal Erwin Rommel, to be stripped of their names.

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EXPLAINED: Why is German Twitter up in arms over a torch-light military parade?

Social media was abuzz on Thursday with criticism of the German army for marching next to the Reichstag with torches in their hands.

EXPLAINED: Why is German Twitter up in arms over a torch-light military parade?
Soldiers at the parade in Berlin on Wednesday. Photo: dpa | Christophe Gateau

The Bundeswehr held a ceremony on Wednesday evening in central Berlin to honour the 90,000 soldiers who risked their lives while serving during the two-decade operation in Afghanistan.

But one part of the ceremony hit a nerve among sections of the German public.

Dozens of soldiers in uniform marched in lock step in front of the Reichstag building, carrying flaming torches.

For some, the visual parallels to a Nazi march at the Brandenburg Gate in 1933 made the parade too historically insensitive.

Thousands of Twitter users posted with hashtags such as #Wehrmacht and #Ritual in which they said that the parade was not suitable for the modern age.

“When Germans carry troches I can’t eat enough to keep up with how much I’m vomiting,” wrote former Green Party politician Jutta Ditfurth. 

Satirist Jan Böhmermann wrote that he finds “torchlight marches by uniformed people in front of the Reichstag really, really sh*tty regardless of what the cause is.”

Highest military ceremony

Wednesday evening’s ceremony was supposed to be about the sacrifices made by German troops. A total of 59 Bundeswehr soldiers lost their lives in Afghanistan. 

The Zapfenstreich – a march with torches – is the highest military ceremony the German army has.

The custom is used to honour German presidents and chancellors as well as defence ministers at their farewell ceremonies. Its origins do not actually lie in the Nazi era, rather they date back to the 16th century.

The ceremony always takes place in the evening, and consists of a procession, parade music – including the national anthem – and a military retreat. Torches are always part of the affair.

The Association of German Deployment Veterans defended the decision to hold the ceremony in front of the Reichstag.

The organisation said that “for an army controlled by a parliament, we can think of no better place than the seat of parliament to honour the service of the Bundeswehr and the sacrifices of its troops”.

Centrist politicians also came out in support of the military. 

“The ceremony was absolutely appropriate in form, and it was held in the only appropriate place,” wrote Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, defence spokeswoman for the FDP. 

Green Party foreign affairs expert Omid Nouripour called the ceremony “appropriate, dignified and moving”.