Calw (AP) – The transport helicopter whirls up a lot of debris. It took just seconds for seven commandos, a service dog and a woman in blue overalls to run to the NH90.
He runs over the tailgate into the machine, while two more helicopters circle the air to secure them. Let’s get away: At first, the wind from the rotor blades is like a storm pushing aside the fresh green of the trees and shrubs in the practice area on the outskirts of Calw. The Special Forces Command (KSK) soldiers play through the process over and over – including how a vehicle is stopped by helicopters and a target caught.
The liberation of kidnapped Germans, special reconnaissance to obtain key information for military leadership, training in partner countries or combat missions against ‘high value targets of strategic or operational importance’ can almost always be classified as secret tasks requiring hundreds of specialists from the ranks of the supporting forces. at work in Calw. At 9 percent, the proportion of women is higher than the military average (6.8 percent). The stated goal is to be a professional, everyone in their field. The public impression was different recently.
After a series of scandals, the photo of a group of right-wing extremists hiding ammunition in the basement and politically suspended. When an entire weapons depot was excavated from a KSK soldier in Saxony, Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU) and the military command pulled the emergency brake. Even a dissolution of the association seemed possible.
“I saw us on the news,” recalls a soldier, a troop leader in the 3rd Command Company’s “attack platoon”. He is surrounded by boxes and memorabilia. “And I always thought that one day we would get into the press because we released a hostage and not because of the misconduct of individuals,” he says. His name – like that of other soldiers – should not be mentioned for security reasons.
Command companies each have their own building block on the grounds of the Graf Zeppelin barracks in Calw. The walls are covered with souvenir photos from training in the high mountains or in the jungle. And again and again: Afghanistan, the 3rd Company was involved in heavy fighting there in 2012 and 2013. Protective vests and equipment are piled up – the KSK soldiers like to have their gear ready for action nearby.
As on November 10, 2016 in Afghanistan: at 11:05 pm local time, the lightning bolt from an explosion flashed into the sky over Mazar-i-Sharif – and the force of the explosion was felt as far as the German camp. With five tons of explosives on a truck, attackers create a “penetration point” on the site of the badly damaged consulate building.
Debris, dust, darkness, power outages and the enemy are already in the house, reports indicate. German police officers in a shootout with the advancing hitmen. The army describes the operation as a race against time, in which a KSK lieutenant colonel as a military leader with some of his men, combat rescuers from the air force and Georgian forces, push back the perpetrators and liberate the badly barricaded Germans. One attacker is captured, the others are dead after the firefight.
Training and assignments create a very special bond with each other. A sergeant major who had been deployed to the KSK in Afghanistan before his time only got his post-traumatic stress syndrome under control with the commando troops. On April 29, 2009, he was in the main vehicle of a reconnaissance group ambushed near Kunduz and involved in combat. A vehicle was hit by a bazooka. Sergei Motz, his subordinate corporal, was wounded beyond repair. Motz was the first German soldier to be killed since World War II.
His superior, who was a little older, suffered soul injuries after two heavy fights. “I fought and killed and had already ended my life in battle,” he says – as the helicopters circle the clearing at Calw. At the slightest sound his wrist went up and he could not shoot calmly for a long time, says the man who now works as “media sergeant KSK”. “The comrades here say you’re one of us.”
The special proximity is also mentioned as the reason why people looked away for a long time, certainly too long when things got out of hand. At the end of 2020, the Ministry of Defense determined that the KSK had so far handled suspicious cases in the field of right-wing extremism and Reich citizenship against 50 people. Of these, 3 people were released from the Bundeswehr, 13 soldiers were transferred or left the KSK. In five cases, the Military Counter-Intelligence Service ruled that the suspicion was unfounded (category “Green”). Around the turn of the year, there were still about twenty suspicious cases pending. An extreme right-wing network committed to the abolition of the free democratic basic order was not recognized.
However, the 2nd Command Company was disbanded last year. She had thrown her company commander a completely derailed farewell party three years earlier. The breakup is practically unprecedented and gives a message: you have disgraced the association and are incorrigible. However, many of those involved had already disappeared. Of the 66 men of the 2nd company, 57 were transferred to the unit after investigation and investigation by the Military Counter-Intelligence Service (MAD). Several soldiers took on other duties in the Bundeswehr, one retired, only one man has not yet been completed by the MAD.
“I don’t think the term” looking the other way around culture “is appropriate. We just didn’t look because we trust each other so deeply, ”says a lieutenant colonel who is the“ KSK spokesman ”. “And all these years we worked so brutally under time pressure that some things were falling behind. I was in Afghanistan for four to six months almost every year for ten years, ”he says. But for the past year, men and women have “literally suffered like dogs”. “We want a second chance and we want to use it,” he says.
However, there has been no more tolerance since the arrest of German Lieutenant Franco A., who is suspected of terrorism and is now on trial in Frankfurt / Main for preparing a serious, state-threatening act of violence. The fact that in the ammunition stocks of the KSK insufficient stocks of tens of thousands of bullets were found and that 62 kilos of explosives were initially missing, hit political Berlin like a bomb.
Booking errors have now been partially traced. And it turned out that in many cases it was just maneuvering ammunition and FX cartridges – low impact energy color markings that can be counteracted by goggles. However, the public prosecutor’s office is also conducting an investigation, because hidden ammunition can be returned without consequences during a fundraising campaign.
There is now a “person primarily responsible for ammunition” who keeps an eye on the 150 items. A commando soldier himself consumes up to 30,000 rounds during the shooting course. At the end of the training, which lasts more than two years, approximately 60,000 rounds of ammunition are fired for the rifle and up to 8,000 rounds for the pistols. At KSK’s shooting training center – built “for the sharp shot in space combat” and secured with 450 tons of steel – the number of rounds fired this month exceeded 10 million.
“The easiest way for us is to train a soldier who has never fired. Otherwise you have to work out mistakes first, ”says the deputy head of the center. The soldiers shoot “stress tests” where they shoot at targets that open: a man empty-handed or with a gun at the head of a hostage. “Stressors” can be switched on: light effects, smoke, fog clouds.
Also next door, in a shooting theater, the combination of brain and hand is trained. An arithmetic problem is displayed on a shooting canvas. 68 + 31 = X. Now a jumble of numbers pulsates. You have to get a 99. “As soon as I say” competition “, the room explodes. Uuuuh. We can lose a lot, but not well ”, says the shooting instructor.
In addition, the multifunctional training hall for the commando troops has been in use since 2019. A ‘specialist’ there has switched military close combat to its own KSK system. “We examined what situation we really have during the missions, what we need,” he says. As a result, hand-to-hand combat training was changed from 265 hours to a compact 168 hours.
Conflict, strife, camaraderie – the training is tough and the stress is high. The command screening is now pending every 18 months. One of the five psychologists – previously there were only three – speaks of the “TÜV for the peer”. There is a risk of overwork because of the soldiers’ will to persevere, because of shame and performance anxiety, or because of concerns about their continued fitness. A psychotherapist notes in the association “moral disappointment” about a lack of recognition from society and politics.
Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has prescribed a 60-point reform program for the KSK and the balance will be re-established shortly. The task is also to ‘unravel’ the association with the aim of strengthening her own understanding of tradition, which is not looking for false role models. Ultimately, it will be a political decision to remove the association from probation. The fact that Kramp-Karrenbauer ordered the KSK soldiers to be moved to Afghanistan to secure the withdrawal and thus be officially deployed abroad can be interpreted as a step in this direction. The matter is not settled.
A young captain, who wrote to Kramp-Karrenbauer during the tough KSK training last year and complained about grievances, is now working on the association’s staff. His letter had caused quite a stir because the officer had called for action against “a kind of cadaveric obedience” and a “toxic association culture”. Meanwhile, the officer regrets it. He got to know completely different sides of the association and broadened his view, he says when asked. “Despite all the criticism at the time, I am sorry that excerpts from my letter discredited the vast majority of those who serve professionally and in accordance with the KSK’s constitution.”
Ex-people, who are no longer subject to secrecy and acted as mouthpieces, arouse anger and distrust in the association. “Many who communicate have been absent for a long time and pretend to speak on behalf of the KSK today. Some are also connected to a network and receive information from those who want to air, ”said the chief of staff in Calw. “Political developments are closely followed here.” And: “The association wants the confidence of politicians. We are a political instrument. “