German soldiers sent to Afghanistan in 2001 decorated a military vehicle with a symbol resembling the Nazi insignia used during World War II by members of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's Afrika-Korps.
Stern magazine published a photograph of an off-road light vehicle bearing on its side a brown palm tree marked with the Iron Cross instead of the Nazi swastika used by the Afrika-Korps, an expeditionary force sent by Adolf Hitler to North Africa.
The symbol "had not been authorized" and was removed before the vehicle was shipped to Afghanistan, Defense Ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe said at a government press conference in Berlin yesterday.
The photo follows the publication in German newspaper Bild Zeitung on October 25 of images showing German soldiers posing with human skulls. The episode triggered a wave of criticism from politicians including Chancellor Merkel and prompted German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung to order the suspension of soldiers allegedly involved and a probe.
The photograph in Stern shows the military vehicle belonging to the KSK special operations unit in November 2001 while it was stationed at Camp Justice on the Omani island of Masirah, Stern reported. The elite unit was the first German ground-troop force sent into Afghanistan, where Germany has 2,730 troops attached to the U.N. ISAF mission, all in the north of the country.
The KSK member who gave the photograph to Stern said some of his peers in the unit "found it particularly chic" to drive around with the palm symbol but that he and others thought it was "simply disgusting," the magazine reported yesterday.
Last week, the German parliament's Defense Committee said it would investigate allegations that the KSK in Afghanistan mistreated a German-born Turk who was released from Guantanamo Bay two months ago. Committee members including Winfried Nachtwei of the opposition Green Party said the probe should expand to examine the KSK's conduct in Afghanistan more broadly.