WASHINGTON: The US has a detailed plan for infiltrating Pakistan and securing its mobile arsenal of nuclear warheads if it appears the country is about to fall under the control of the Taliban, al-Qaeda or other Islamic extremists, a leading TV network reported.
“American intelligence sources say the operation would be conducted by the Joint Special Operations Command, the super-secret commando unit headquartered at Fort Bragg, NC,” a report by Rowan Scarborough of the FoxNews said on Friday. The report has also been posted on foxnews.com, the website of the TV channel.
It said: “The JSOC is the military’s chief terrorists hunting squad and has units now operating in Afghanistan on Pakistan’s western border. But a secondary mission is to secure foreign nuclear arsenals — a role for which the JSOC operatives have trained in Nevada.
“The mission has taken on added importance in the recent months, as Islamic extremists have taken territory close to the capital of Islamabad and could destabilise Pakistan’s shaky democracy. “We have plans to secure them ourselves if things get out of hand,” said a US intelligence source, who has deployed to Afghanistan. “That is a big secondary mission for the JSOC in Afghanistan.”
The source said the JSOC had been updating its mission plan for the day President Obama gave the order to infiltrate Pakistan. “Small units could seize them, disable them and then centralise them in a secure location,” the source said. A secret Defence Intelligence Agency document, first disclosed in 2004, said Pakistan had a nuclear arsenal of 35 weapons. The document said it planned to more than double the arsenal by 2020.
The FoxNews quoted a Pakistani official as saying the US and his country had an understanding that if either Osama bin Laden, or his deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, was located, the US troops and air strikes might be used inside the borders to capture or kill them.
“What makes the Pakistan mission especially difficult is that the military has its missiles on the Soviet-style mobile launchers and rail lines. The US intelligence agencies, using satellite photos and communication intercepts, is constantly monitoring their whereabouts. Other warheads are kept in storage. The US technical experts have visited Pakistan to advise the government on how to maintain and protect its arsenal.
“Also, there are rogue elements inside Pakistan’s military and intelligence service, who could quickly side with the extremists and make the JSOC’s mission all the more difficult.“It’s relatively easy to track the rail-mounted ones with satellites,” said the intelligence source. “Truck-mounted are more difficult. However, they are all relatively close to the capital in areas that the government firmly controls, so we don’t have to look too far.
“The JSOC is made up of three main elements: Army Delta Force, Navy SEALs and a high-tech special intelligence unit known as the Task Force Orange. The JSOC was instrumental in Iraq in finding and killing Abu Musab Zarqawi, the deadly and most prominent al-Qaeda leader in the Middle East.
“There is speculation in the intelligence community that a secondary reason for Army Lt-Gen Stanley McChrystal being named the next commander in Afghanistan is that he headed the JSOC in 2006-08 and is read-in on its contingency missions in Pakistan.
“Adm Michael Mullen, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, this month said that based on the information he had seen, Pakistan’s nuclear warheads were safe. “I remain comfortable that the nuclear weapons in Pakistan are secure, that the Pakistani leadership and, in particular, the military is very focused on this,” it said. “We, the United States, have invested fairly significantly over the last three years, to work with them, to improve that security. And we’re satisfied, very satisfied with that progress. We will continue to do that. And we all recognise obviously the worst downside of — with respect to Pakistan is that those nuclear weapons come under the control of terrorists.”
The report, also posted on foxnews.com, generated a heated debate when a number of comments were posted on the website. One said: “Oh My God, small elite forces to hold nuke sites in Pakistan… Sounds like a typical ineffective strategy developed by liberal politicians. So, what happens when our elite forces are surrounded by and overwhelmed by the Taliban enemy? Who the heck is coming up with these horrific strategies?”
The comment added: “What we need to do is stabilise the country that has thus far reasonably protected their nuclear arsenal and help them rid their land of evil terrorists. This almost feels like it could be part of a bigger plan to ensure the nukes fall into the hands of the terrorists. It’s like we almost want it to happen, like we’re just dying to test these criminals whilst we observe them launching missiles on neighbouring countries and possibly America… I’m usually not a conspiracy believer, but this thing really wreaks… It’s almost like we’re cutting the trail for the start of WWIII.”
Another comment said: “‘Sounds like a typical ineffective strategy developed by liberal politicians’ … And your solution is what? And the Republican/conservative solution is what? It is real easy to criticise and/or be a cynic (Seems to be a disease going around in this country from both the left and the right, fuelled by talk radio. Worry about swine flue, no, this infection is nastier.) We need more sceptics not cynics.”
A third comment said: “The Obama administration has already fumbled the ball in Pakistan. Whether there is time to make up for their fumbles remains to be seen. However, this article is nothing more than a leak to try to pump up the Obama administration to make it look like ‘they have a plan’ to seize Pakistan’s nukes and we shouldn’t worry about it. They ‘may have a plan’, but I doubt they know where the nukes are and/or could grab them all if the Taliban take control in Pakistan.”
A reader observed: “Please, please, don’t start this; of course, the Defence Department has such a plan. It has contingency plans for just about every conceivable threat on the planet. I suspect we have a battle plan for the invasion of Monaco somewhere. But what we don’t want to do is start commenting and speculating on something this sensitive. You never comment on capabilities or intentions when the enemy is listening and watching. They study everything. They can get on this subject. We should give them nothing and feed them as much believable disinformation as possible.” The News report