Last week, a 28-year-old German lieutenant named Franco A. was arrested on suspicion of terrorism. He had allegedly drawn up a list of terror targets including former German President Joachim Gauck and Justice Minister Heiko Maas.
In addition, the soldier had posed as a Syrian asylum seeker in Bavaria in late 2015. Astonishingly, he successfully tricked officials into launching an asylum application on his behalf, despite speaking only broken Arabic.
Although some reports claim he was preparing a "false flag" terror attack, he has not revealed what his motives were.
Since the arrest of Franco A., another Bundeswehr soldier has been arrested in connection with the investigation. According to Germany's RND News, the Defense Ministry believes that Franco A. was a member of a network of five suspected right-wing extremists operating in the German army.
The case of Franco A. is concerning because the soldier was first suspected of harboring far-right views in 2014, when he wrote a master's thesis which was rejected by his professors as a "pseudo-scientific work" of radical nationalist and racist ideas.
However, he rewrote the thesis and the soldier's superiors allowed him to remain the forces until recently.
She followed up her criticism with an open letter to the troops published on the Defense Ministry website, where she reiterated that "we can no longer speak of individual cases" and repeated her view that a mistaken sense of esprit de corps was at fault for the abuses not being reported.
The Defense Minister linked the case to a string of recent incidents of misconduct within the armed forces, including abuse of recruits and evidence of neo-Nazi sympathies among hundreds of troops.
Juergen Rose, a military expert and former lieutenant colonel in the Bundeswehr, told Sputnik Deutschland that the Bundeswehr has struggled with far-right elements ever since its establishment in the 1950s.
"This is to do with the fact that the Bundeswehr was created in 1955 out of former Wehrmacht and Waffen SS soldiers. Konrad Adenauer, who set the Bundeswehr on its way, said, 'I can't make 18-year-olds into generals,' and the spirit of the Wehrmacht and partially the Waffen SS was a part of the army from the beginning. That is its 'birth defect,'" Rose said.
In response to this, the German general and military planner Wolf Graf von Baudissin came up with the founding principles of "Innere Fuehrung" (leadership development) and "Staatsbuerger in Uniform" (citizens in uniform) in order to better conceptualize the army's role and integrate it with the German constitution.
"By and large, the Bundeswehr fulfilled this task but this traditionalist demon has always appeared. For example, think of the Rudel Affair, when the fanatical Nazi Colonel Rudel was invited to join an Air Force Association meeting, after which two generals in the West German Luftwaffe were forced to resign," Rose explained.
"There was also the case of the right-wing Manfred Roeder, who appeared at the leadership academy in the late 1990s. The then-Defense Minister, Ruehe, had a similar problem to that which Ursula von der Leyen has now."
"Bundeswehr officers were present in uniform at the funeral of Admiral Doenitz, Adolf Hitler's successor. These are individual cases, but many individual cases form a series. In that respect, the Defense Minister is not entirely wrong that there is a leadership and attitude problem in the group," Rose said.
The former lieutenant colonel said that many aspects of military life are also attractive to people with far-right sympathies, such as its hierarchical organization, exercise of power and handling of weapons. For this reason, the army must be very careful in its recruitment in order to exclude those who hold extreme right-wing views.
Von der Leyen's attempt to deflect the blame for the crisis onto the Bundeswehr leadership is particularly unfortunate, since her time in office has not been without mistakes, he added.
"The Minister appeared on Anne Will [a talk show] and declared that the anti-aircraft attack on Syria was justified. Did she not know better? That means she hasn't been properly instructed by her lawyers and that is a management problem. Or, she was trying to deceive the audience, which is a very serious attitude problem. As a Minister, you should be cautious about criticizing others when you yourself have leadership and attitude problems," Rose said.
In March, it emerged that a private in the German Gebirgsjaeger (mountain troops) had been sexually abused at barracks in Bad Reichenhall. Local prosecutors allege that bullying, sexual misconduct and animal cruelty took place there.
Last week it was reported that army instructors at a barracks in Thuringian Sondershausen verbally abused new recruits, calling them "genetic waste," and forced them to endure long runs that sometimes caused them to physically collapse.
In the aftermath of that report, von der Leyen fired the army's chief instructor, General-major Walter Spindler, in the belief that Spindler's administration did not investigate the claims thoroughly enough.
In addition, the Defense Ministry announced last month it is looking into 275 reported cases of far-right extremism within the country’s military ranks, including soldiers saying "Heil Hitler," performing Nazi salutes and calling for violence against migrants.