WASHINGTON — The Army ordered 350 Special Forces troops restricted to their compound Tuesday after superiors found swastikas painted on the doors of rooms occupied by black soldiers in a Special Forces barracks at Ft. Bragg, N.C.
Army officials said that the swastikas, drawn in red brush-strokes, were discovered early Tuesday morning after apparently being painted between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m., the time most troops are expected to rise.
The incident was the second race-related action at Ft. Bragg since December, when three white soldiers were charged in the shooting of a black couple in Fayetteville, N.C., which borders the base. Two of the men were said to have ties to neo-Nazi groups.
Besides serving as headquarters for the Special Forces command, Ft. Bragg is home to the 82nd Airborne Division, an elite paratroop force. All three soldiers charged in the shooting in December were members of the 82nd. Their trial is pending.
The Pentagon reacted strongly to Tuesday's incident. Defense Department spokesman Kenneth H. Bacon denounced the act as "unacceptable." There is "no place for that in the U.S. military--any place, any time."
Army officials said that Brig. Gen. Kenneth R. Bowra, commanding general of the Special Forces, ordered that about 350 soldiers who live in the barracks where the swastikas were found be restricted to the unit's compound while the service investigates.
A high-level study on extremism in the Army begun after the December shooting concluded that hate groups had not made serious inroads but noted that elite units such as the Special Forces Command were being "targeted" by extremist organizations.
A separate inquiry on Ft. Bragg found that about 22 soldiers of the 82nd's 14,700 members, including the men being held for the December murders, either were skinheads or had held extremist views.
Immediately after the study was made public in March, Secretary of the Army Togo West Jr. ordered the service to tighten long-standing rules that had allowed soldiers to become members of hate groups as long as they did not become active participants. Army officials are still working on the new regulations.
The Special Forces, known during the Vietnam War as the Green Berets, are trained to conduct secret missions behind enemy lines and to work with foreign military forces.
Officials said that the incident occurred in a barracks belonging to the 1st Battalion of the 7th Special Forces Group. Swastikas were painted on the doors of eight of the rooms, six of which were occupied by African American soldiers. The other two apparently were vacant.
Swastikas were used as the symbol of Germany's National Socialist Party, known informally as the Nazis, before and during World War II.