Von der Leyen cancels US trip in wake of army lieutenant’s arrest

dw.com, 2 May 2017

The German defense minister postponed her trip after finding herself under pressure in relation to the arrest of Lieutenant Franco A. Her leadership has also come under fire from a military association in Germany.

The German defense ministry announced on Tuesday that Ursula Von der Leyen had cancelled a planned trip to the United States in order to focus on the ongoing army investigation that has seen an exchange of criticism between the minister and the military.

Read more: Germany promises quick answer to soldier-refugee mystery

Von der Leyen had been scheduled to meet with UN officials and US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in New York City and Washington, DC on Wednesday.

In announcing the cancellation, the defense ministry cited the minister’s desire to prioritize the ongoing investigation into last Wednesday’s arrest of Lieutenant Franco A., who was allegedly planning a right-wing motivated attack. The 28-year-old had registered as a Syrian refugee and was suspected to be targeting asylum seekers, as well as members of the political left.

“The minister’s top priority is to clear up the circumstances in the case of Lieutenant A. from Illkirch,” the defense ministry said in a statement as it announced the change in travel plans.

Von der Leyen will instead travel with General Inspector Volker Wieker to Illkirch, a French town south of Strasbourg where Franco. A had been stationed.

Von der Leyen and ‘weak leadership’

According to German media, the defense ministry had received indications that Franco A. was part of a small right-wing extremist group within the troops. Further information was to be provided to representatives of the Bundestag’s defense committee within the framework of a comprehensive information-gathering process.

On Thursday, von der Leyen is scheduled to meet top military officials in Berlin to discuss the investigation, along with other recent cases of military misconduct.

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Von der Leyen has been criticized after she told the German television broadcaster ZDF on Sunday that, “The German army has an attitude problem, and it has apparently weak leadership at different levels.”

Representatives of the German armed forces association responded by saying “If Mrs. von der Leyen says there is a leadership problem, then one must naturally say: leadership goes from the top down.”

cmb/jm (dpa, Reuters)

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