The minister who knew nothing

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer had a pretty busy schedule on Monday. In the morning, the Minister of Defense was a guest at a squadron in Holzdorf in Saxony-Anhalt. There she ceremoniously decommissioned the last Bell UH-1D rescue helicopter. It was one of the nicer appointments for the commander. In addition to the very old Bell helicopters, there was also the modern replacement from the house on the airfield Airbus.

After that it got less comfortable. Kramp-Karrenbauer had to go by helicopter Berlin hurry, there the members of the Defense Committee were already waiting. Together with their most important military and civil servants, Kramp-Karrenbauer should finally shed a little more light on the so-called amnesty affair at the elite association "Special Forces Command" (KSK), which has given her a lot of political pain in the last few weeks.

Even the location of the special session looked a bit threatening. Shortly after 14 p.m. the glass doors of the circular hall 3.101 in the Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus closed. Until last year, a committee of inquiry had against Kramp-Karrenbauer's predecessor, sometimes late into the night, at exactly the same place Ursula von der Leyen determined because under her aegis, consultancy contracts worth millions were illegally awarded by the defense department.

Three moving boxes full of ammunition

The affair that weighs on Kramp-Karrenbauer is no less complex. At its core, it is about a dubious amnesty action that KSK commander Markus Kreitmayr ordered in spring 2020. The general suspected at the time that his unit had been messing around with the ammunition administration for years. Individual soldiers had branched off thousands of shots. Since right-wing extremist suspected cases at the KSK were piling up at the same time, the general now preferred to clean up thoroughly.

For cleaning up, Kreitmayr chose an unusual and irregular way. Instead of documenting exactly which soldiers had ammunition in their pockets, he made his men an offer. Each unit was allowed to hand in the diverted ammunition anonymously; there were no disciplinary investigations whatsoever. A lot came together during the amnesty campaign. More than 40.000 rounds, mostly maneuvering ammunition, that's about three large moving boxes full.

That Kreitmayr's action against the service regulations of the Bundeswehr it was clear pretty quickly. Legal advisers of the Bundeswehr noted in June that, in addition to internal investigations against the commander, there was also an allegation of thwarting punishment in the office, since the commander had made it impossible to prosecute the theft of ammunition. This assessment was so explosive that the relevant note quickly ran up to the Ministry of Defense.

This is where the process becomes tricky for Kramp-Karrenbauer. Because it was precisely at that time that the minister acted as an unyielding reformer of the KSK. After thousands of rounds of ammunition hidden in the garden of a commando warrior were found in May, Kramp-Karrenbauer declared the "Iron Broom" operation. She completely dissolved a company of the KSK and had her top military personnel set up a strict reform program for the elite unit together with KSK boss Kreitmayr.

The State Secretary recognized the explosive power

But although Kramp-Karrenbauer had made the KSK a matter for the boss at the time, she never heard of the ammunition affair in summer 2020. Only months later, when a KSK soldier testified in court about the amnesty action, she is said to have taken her inspector general aside and reported on the internal investigations against the KSK boss. The four-star general had to apologize publicly for this happened so late.

In front of the MPs, Kramp-Karrenbauer stayed with this version on Thursday. However, another of their top officials admitted that he, too, had already been informed of the explosive process in June. State Secretary Gerd Hoofe also recognized the explosive power. Only days later he informed the secret service control committee. In the special session, however, he could not remember exactly whether he also inaugurated the head of the ministerial office.

According to Hoofe's statements, the opposition sees its doubts about the minister's credibility strengthened. FDP defense expert Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann said it was unbelievable that no one from the leadership in the ministry or the Bundeswehr had informed the minister about the allegations against the KSK general. Should that really be the case, she added smugly, Kramp-Karrenbauer obviously had her house “not under control”.

The minister herself, however, felt completely relieved after the meeting. The committee meeting did not provide any evidence that she had told the untruth, emphasized the CDU politician after the marathon of questions. But the affair is by no means over. On Wednesday, Kramp-Karrenbauer has to compete again on the same topic in the defense committee. And for May 3, the committee has already scheduled another special meeting in room 3.101.