Berlin was rocked by tragedy yesterday, as a tractor trailer barreled through a crowded market full of Christmas shoppers.  Twelve have been confirmed dead with at least 48 more injured, and according to sources within the German intelligence community, the event is being investigated as an act of terrorism.

As a member of NATO, Germany has played an active role in the global war on terrorism since it began, and Germany’s most elite special forces operators, the Kommando Spezialkräfte (KSK), have been on the front lines of Germany’s anti-terrorism efforts throughout.  Germany’s competitive selection process and extensive training regimen has crafted what many consider to be one of the premier special forces military organizations on the planet, engaging terrorist organizations the world over and playing a particularly active role in Afghanistan since 2001.

It would seem Germany’s participation in the war on terror may have earned them the ire of organizations like ISIS, who were reported to have claimed responsibility for the Berlin attack only hours after it occurred.  If confirmed, this would be the first large scale terrorist attack in Germany of the modern era, though the German government has been on high alert as a result of smaller attacks within the nation that have been tied to ISIS in recent months.

Germany has been characteristically tight-lipped about the policies governing their elite fighting force, the KSK, even within their own government, prompting some to call for increased transparency regarding the tactics and targets the KSK engages, but this muddy water may allow Germany’s most elite anti-terror fighters to participate in the domestic investigation and possible pursuit of anyone that aided the Berlin attackers.

The KSK was founded in 1996 under orders from the Defense Minister at the time, Volker Rühe, in an effort to address what he felt was a serious tactical weakness presented by the German military: “The capability to rescue national citizens abroad in case of emergency is a basic necessity and responsibility of every state.”

Prior to the establishment of Germany’s own special forces arm, specialized combat tactics were employed by separate departments, each operating within the spectrum of their own areas of expertise.  Counter-terrorism activities had been solely the responsibility of Germany’s elite police unit, the GSG-9, reconnaissance efforts fell on the German army, waterborn missions were left to the German navy’s combat swimmers, and Special Weapons Escort Companies served as the German go-to for actively engaging enemy combatants in high stakes situations.  Upon its activation in 1997, the KSK absorbed each of these roles under a single roof.

The KSK’s hierarchy plays to each operator’s strength, assigning them to squads based on specialties such as weapons, communications, combat engineering and medicine.  Each member is hand-picked and assigned to a squad in need of their specialized skillset after completing a grueling selection course and two more years of tactical and technical training.  Every platoon is comprised of four of these squads, and each of the four KSK commando companies has five platoons.

The KSK quickly gained prominence on the world stage, being recognized by a number of world leaders, including President George W. Bush who offered the KSK the Presidential Unit Citation for their exceptional courage and esprit de corps when aiding U.S. anti-terrorism efforts in the days immediately following the September 11th, 2001 terror attacks on the United States.  Such was the KSK’s level of technical ability that SOFREP founder, Brandon Webb, once found his SEAL platoon under the command of a KSK officer during a combat mission; a first for both elite teams.  Their training methodology borrows heavily from successful special operations units in allied nations; drawing from the British SAS, American Special Forces, and Germany’s own elite police force, the GSG-9.