BERLIN — Germany’s protection ministry despatched dwelling a tank platoon from a NATO mission in Lithuania on Thursday after a number of of its members got here below suspicion of sexually assaulting a fellow soldier, and participating in racist and anti-Semitic harassment, including a global embarrassment to an inventory of woes plaguing the nation’s armed forces.
The 30-member platoon can be disbanded upon its return to Germany and any troopers discovered responsible of crimes or misconduct can be severely punished, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Germany’s protection minister, stated. The members of the platoon had been amongst roughly 600 German troopers serving in Lithuania, one of many three Baltic nations the place, together with Poland, NATO has put troops in response to the Russian annexation of Crimea and incursions into Ukraine.
The incident in Lithuania is the newest humiliation for Germany’s armed forces, which have been struggling for years to establish and weed out far-right extremists in their ranks, whilst commanders battle to keep up a picture of a nimble, fashionable power regardless of an absence of apparatus and recruits. Last yr, Germany was pressured to disband an elite special forces unit after discovering that it had been infiltrated by far-right extremists.
More than a humiliation, the newest episode dangers undermining religion within the functionality of the German Army to steer the 1,300-strong battle group in Lithuania, which incorporates troops from Belgium, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Norway, Iceland and Luxembourg.
“The misconduct of some soldiers in Lithuania is a slap in the face for all those in the army who serve day in, day out for the security of our country,” Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer stated on Twitter. “This derailment damages the reputation of Germany and its army and will be met with the most severe punishment possible.”
The Defense Ministry stated Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer had reached out to her Lithuanian counterpart to debate the incident, however gave no additional particulars of their dialogue, citing an ongoing investigation.
NATO declined to make an official remark concerning the German platoon withdrawal. Oana Lungescu, the spokeswoman for the alliance, stated that disciplinary points had been a matter for the nation involved.
An preliminary investigation into the misconduct additionally discovered that 569 rounds of ammunition for handguns seemed to be lacking, Cmdr. Christina Routsi, a spokeswoman for the armed forces, stated on Wednesday. Military authorities first realized of the incidents final week and the pinnacle of the German Armed Forces Operations Command had despatched a staff of investigators to look into the matter, she stated.
“There are initial suspicions of violations of soldierly duties, such as the duty of comradeship, the duty to serve faithfully or the duty of obedience,” Commander Routsi stated. “But what is even worse is that there are also criminal offenses at issue, such as sexual assault, insults, possibly with racist or anti-Semitic connotations, as well as extremist behavior.”
That included singing a tune to mark Adolf Hitler’s birthday on April 20, in violation of a sergeant’s order, the German journal Der Spiegel reported on Monday. The sergeant then didn’t report the incident, it stated.
The NATO troops are multinational, battalion-sized battle teams, with armor, that rotate in order to seem that they don’t seem to be everlasting. The intention is to reinforce deterrence, to attempt to stop Russia from invading the 4 nations the place the troops are primarily based, and to reassure their residents that NATO will come to their protection as promised below Article 5 of its founding treaty.
Moscow has made repeated makes an attempt to destabilize the Western alliance by way of an active misinformation campaign. Shortly after the arrival of the German troops, stories circulated on-line that one in all them had raped a 15-year-old Lithuanian lady. NATO investigated the stories, discovered them to be false and blamed Russia for spreading them.
Steven Erlanger contributed reporting from Brussels.