In the new affair surrounding the Bundeswehr Elite Association Special Forces Command (KSK), the Ministry of Defense and its boss Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU) have to explain. According to SPIEGEL information, internal research in the ministry revealed that the army, as well as top military personnel and top officials in the ministry, were informed very early on of blatant breaches of service law by KSK boss Markus Kreitmayr, but hardly did anything to follow up the incidents.
The process is therefore dangerous for the minister as well. The incidents “at all levels, from Mr. Kreitmayr up to Minister Kramp-Karrenbauer, require explanation,” said the Bundestag defense commissioner, Eva Högl (SPD), on Tuesday.
The coming days are decisive for Kramp-Karrenbauer. For Wednesday, the opposition summoned the minister and the inspector general to the Bundestag, both of whom have to answer questions in the defense committee. If the CDU politician cannot convincingly clear up the most pressing questions there, the affair could lead to a parliamentary investigation of the events.
It is about a so-called amnesty offer that KSK commander Markus Kreitmayr made his soldiers in March 2020. In the Zeppelin barracks in Calw it was noticed that tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition, but also explosives and hand grenades were missing. Kreitmayr then encouraged his soldiers to return previously stolen material in collection boxes – anonymously. For this purpose, pallets were placed in front of the emergency company buildings.
In fact, the offer was actively used. Within a few weeks, around 37,000 rounds of ammunition of various calibres were collected. However, an incendiary hand grenade and other explosives were also found in the boxes. The campaign was a success for the KSK boss: He was able to report that the shortages of ammunition and other material discovered in the books had at least partially reappeared.
From a legal point of view, however, the amnesty operation was more than questionable. According to service law, any loss of ammunition or weapons by the Bundeswehr must be followed closely and who is responsible must be identified. Soldiers who steal ammunition face severe penalties – even if, for example, they keep remains of ammunition from exercises in their room. Kreitmayr’s offer was therefore not only unusual, it was probably illegal.
KSK boss ordered back from the USA
Until Monday, the ministry was self-confident. People pretended that Kreitmayr had acted single-handedly to protect his own association from negative headlines. At the same time, the KSK boss was ordered back home from a parachute exercise in the US state of Arizona over the weekend. Some media have already spread, citing ministry circles, that the commander is about to be replaced and that the minister wants to make short work of it.
In the meantime, however, the tide has turned. After viewing the files on the events and several hearings of Kreitmayr, it is certain that the army command had been aware of the rally in Calw since May 2020 at the latest. At that time there was probably a written warning from a legal advisor who described the unpunished handing over of stolen ammunition as highly problematic and warned that an official investigation should be carried out against those responsible.
And in the ministry, too, they weren’t quite as clueless as initially claimed. In an interim result, the army reported on the sloppiness with the ammunition at the KSK in summer 2020 to a specially set up task force on the questionable amnesty campaign in Calw. The explosive information had reached the top, because with State Secretary Gerd Hoofe and General Inspector Eberhard Zorn the management was well represented in the task force.
Why was Kramp-Karrenbauer not inaugurated?
The new findings raise many questions. For one thing, the ministry has to answer why there wasn’t a tight investigation into the matter much earlier. The army apparently initiated internal proceedings early on. This has not yet been concluded, however, and as of Monday, KSK boss Kreitmayr, the main suspect, had not even been questioned. A final report should not be ready until March – almost ten months after the first indications.
Not only the opposition will want to know from Kramp-Karrenbauer and its general inspector why the task force it appointed did not use the army’s report on the illegal rallying campaign as an opportunity to accelerate the internal investigation. The minister should also ask herself the question, because allegedly her most important advisors did not inform her either.
The task force did not mention the explosive process in November in an interim report to the minister and the Bundestag. Instead of at least informing that the army is already investigating the rally, the long document does not contain the slightest reference to the cause. Kramp-Karrenbauer is said to have only received this version of the report; she claims to have only recently learned about Kreitmayr’s offer of amnesty.
A life of its own in the Bendlerblock
A lot is at stake for Kramp-Karrenbauer. Nobody accuses the minister of not having acted bravely enough on the KSK. Against the advice of her military, she even dissolved the second command company in 2020, as right-wing extremist soldiers had been tolerated there for a long time. The warning that the KSK as a whole was “on probation” was also quite brave.
But what are the clear announcements worth? If even her top people do not inform the minister about such a delicate process, she must be accused of not having her shop under control. Exactly this very special life of its own in the troops and in the Berlin Bendler Block, where negative news is reluctantly passed on to the top and instead kept under the covers, has brought down many a minister.