Elite US forces to counter Pakistani nuke hijacks: Report (Lead, Changing dateline)

January 17th, 2010 - 6:45 pm ICT by IANS  

F-16 London/Islamabad, Jan 17 (IANS) The US army is training a crack unit “to seal off and snatch back Pakistani nuclear weapons in the event that militants, possibly from inside the country’s security apparatus, get their hands on a nuclear device or materials that could make one”, a media report said Sunday but Islamabad termed it “outlandish”.
The specialized unit would be charged with recovering the nuclear materials and securing them, Times Online said.

“The move follows growing anti-Americanism in Pakistan’s military, a series of attacks on sensitive installations over the past two years, several of which housed nuclear facilities, and rising tension that has seen a series of official complaints by US authorities to Islamabad in the past fortnight,” Times Online said.

When the attention of a Pakistan foreign office spokesman in Islamabad was drawn to the report, he dismissed it as the “outlandish musings by an academic”.

Online news agency quoted the spokesman as telling a private TV channel that the report was part of a “conspiracy” against Pakistan.

“Pakistan’s nukes are safe and neither the militants nor any other group was capable enough to take over our atomic assets,” the spokesman added.

He also rejected the suggestion that there was any danger of Pakistan’s strategic assets falling into the wrong hands.

Times Online quoted Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a former CIA officer who used to run the US energy department’s intelligence unit, as saying: “What you have in Pakistan is nuclear weapons mixed with the highest density of extremists in the world, so we have a right to be concerned.”

“There have been attacks on army bases which stored nuclear weapons and there have been breaches and infiltrations by terrorists into military facilities,” he added.

Shaun Gregory, director of the Pakistan security research unit at Bradford University, has tracked a number of attempted security breaches since 2007. “The terrorists are at the gates,” he warned.

In a counter-terrorism journal published by America’s West Point military academy, he documented three incidents. The first was an attack in November 2007 at Sargodha in Punjab where nuclear capable F-16 combat jets are thought to be stationed.

The following month, a suicide bomber struck at Pakistan’s nuclear airbase at Kamra in Attock district. In August 2008 a group of suicide bombers blew up the gates to a weapons complex at the Wah cantonment in Punjab, believed to be one of Pakistan’s nuclear warhead assembly plants. The attack left 63 people dead.

A further attack followed at Kamra last October. Pakistan denies that the base still has a nuclear role, but Gregory believes it does, Times Online said.

Fears that militants could penetrate a nuclear facility intensified after a brazen attack on the Army Headquarters in Rawalpindi last October when 10 gunmen wearing army uniforms stormed inside and laid siege for 22 hours.

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