WASHINGTON -- Following last week's embarrassing controversy involving Marines displaying a flag with what appeared to be a Nazi insignia, American and Afghan soldiers have alleged that an Army base near Kandahar was named Combat Outpost "Aryan," a term evocative of Nazi rhetoric.
In a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on Monday morning, lawyers representing the Military Religious Freedom Foundation demanded that Panetta immediately rename the base and launch an investigation into its naming. "The horrendous religious and ethnic connotations are beyond dispute, as is the horribly wrongful nature of either the base name or the use of the SS insignia," wrote Randal Mathis of the Dallas law firm Mathis, Donheiser and Jeter.
The name of the outpost was included in a news bulletin from June 2011 on the website of the Army's 170th Infantry Brigade. A subordinate unit of the brigade, which is based in Germany and was deployed to southern Afghanistan at the time, published a photo of American soldiers meeting with their Afghan counterparts at "Combat Outpost Aryan" on June 5.
The Department of Defense pushed back on the report, telling The Huffington Post that it has no record of the alleged base name. "We have not been able to identify any ISAF facilities in Kandahar named 'Aryan,' but there is an Afghan National Army Combat Outpost in southwest Ghazni province called 'Arian,'" said Commander William Speaks.
According to MRFF founder Mikey Weinstein, his organization was contacted on Sunday night by a group of Americans and Afghans outraged by the base's name but afraid to take the matter to their superiors. "The ANA [Afghan National Army] folks did not believe they could go to the Americans, and our own members of the military didn't think they could go up the chain [of command]," he said.
Weinstein told The Huffington Post that most of the 21 American servicemembers who contacted him were based in the Kandahar area, and at least two of them had been stationed at Combat Outpost Aryan. He also claimed that in the United States, military members at a unified command -- a command made up of units from all of the military services -- had attempted to inform their superiors of their concerns about the name but were ignored.
The naming of Combat Outpost Aryan is the second incident involving Nazi symbolism in the military in four days. On Friday, pictures surfaced of Marines in Afghanistan holding what appeared to be the flag of the SS, an infamous paramilitary unit within the Nazi party. The Marine Corps apologized for the incident and Panetta has called for an investigation, but none of the individual Marines in the picture were punished.
The MRFF dismissed the military's reaction to the flag as inadequate, saying it ignores a wider issue in military culture. "These two things could not have occurred outside an environment that is apparently tolerating, if not encouraging," they said in their letter to Panetta. "Surely your office does not condone such wretched behavior. Given the lack of any meaningful response last week from the Marine Corps, apparently only your office can do something of merit about it."
But Commander Speaks, the department spokesman, challenged the linkage to Nazi symbolism. "I would note that the name 'Arian' (or 'Ariana') refers to an ancient tribe in Afghanistan, and the name is used by Afghans (e.g., there is a news outlet, and an airline with the same name)," he wrote to The Huffington Post.
Despite his disdain for the depth of the military's response, however, Weinstein said the SS flag incident had allowed concerned soldiers the freedom to inform him about Combat Outpost Aryan. "When it rains, it pours, and they felt that now they had more cover," he said of the soldiers who contacted him. "The ANA members were particularly terrified."