Pakistan's Nuclear Arsenal in Jeopardy, US Special Forces on Standby

Less than six months ago, DEBKA-Net-Weekly military sources revealed in its 396 issue of May 15 that terrorists had come within reach of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. They confirmed the Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh assertion in a conversation at the time with President Barack Obama:

“The (Pakistani) nuclear weapons and the missiles are already partly in the hands of the Muslim extremists… There is no longer any way to prevent them from taking control.”

He referred to two locations as keys to Pakistan's nuclear and missile arsenals: Kohat and the Wah Cantonment Pakistani Ordnance Complex in the city of Kamra – both in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

(See attached map/dynmedia/photos/legacy/weekly/pakistanNuclear.jpg)

Dominated by mountains and hills, Kohat is the capital of the district of that name at the northern tip of Waziristan. It has an important air base, airport and is connected to Peshawar, seat of the Northern Air Command, 60 kilometers to the north, by a Japanese-built 2-kilometer tunnel link.

Kamra is roughly 180 kilometers northeast of the Kohat air base. It is home to the Pakistani Wah Cantonment Ordnance Complex, which consists of three armament facilities in Wah (Pakistan Ordnance Factories – POF), Kamra (Air Weapon Complex – AWC), and Taxilia (Heavy Industries Taxila -HIT).

This cluster holds most of the storage and assembly facilities serving Pakistan's nuclear weapons and components, especially those at the “screwdriver level.” The modification of aircraft and missiles for nuclear attacks also takes place there.

The Air Weapon Complex at Kamra houses air-to-surface missiles and is probably the site of the development and storage of nuclear warheads.

US special forces on standby to secure Pakistan's nukes

Taliban has seized control of key sections of Kohat town and the roads connecting it to Kamra 180 kilometers away. Our military sources stress that if Kohat falls completely to the Taliban, Islamabad and the Pakistani high command will be cut off from Kamra and its nuclear depots.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly counter-terrorism sources report that on Saturday, October 10, when the Taliban attacked the Pakistani military central command compound in Islamabad, it concurrently seized parts of the military road to Peshawar and the tunnel-link, which has created a short cut between Peshawar and Kohat. Insurgent forces based in the Darra Adam Kheil tribal belt carried out the attack.

Although no-one in Washington or Islamabad will admit it, after the Saturday attacks, the White House had the Pentagon order US special operations forces units trained to take control of Pakistan's nuclear facilities to stand by for further directives at their bases in Afghanistan.

The order was repeated Thursday, Oct. 15, after another round of Taliban attacks in Pakistan.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources describe these units as trained specifically to cross into Pakistan at short notice, seize control of its nuclear sites, empty out the stores and remove their contents to a safe hiding place in the west.

At that moment too, Pakistani Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani placed the special detail responsible for securing the nuclear arsenal on the ready, out of two considerations:

1. Because the 10 uniform-clad Pakistani fighters who invaded the military headquarters in Islamabad on Oct. 10, may have been heading for the special command responsible for the security of the nuclear arsenal; or.

2. Because officers from this command may have been among the 42 hostages Taliban seized in that attack and held for 22 hours. At least 12 of the hostages were killed or died in the rescue raid. Islamabad has not so far identified any of them.

Taliban again hammers Kohat road link to nuclear sites

A U.S official in Washington, speaking anonymously a few hours after the dual-track terror attack began, said strong safeguards are in place and there is no reason to believe the Pakistani nuclear arsenal is in imminent jeopardy of seizure by militants. There is a major difference, he said, between attacking a nuclear site and actually seizing and using the nuclear material stored inside.

But our sources note that this official, like other American and Pakistani spokesman, made no mention of the sync between the military headquarters attack and two other strikes, one near the Sargodha air base, where nuclear missiles are believed stored, and the Wah cantonment, where nuclear-capable missiles are believed assembled.

Neither had the Pakistanis by Oct. 15 yet updated the security situation in these highly-sensitive North Western Frontier locations or revealed whether or not the Taliban assault had been repelled.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military analysts note that on Thursday, the Taliban used the same tactic as it employed five days earlier: It mounted a major attack in a big city – Lahore, this time – targeting the Federal Investigation Agency, which investigates terrorist attacks, and two police training academies, one for elite counter-terror forces. This strike was likewise synchronized with a second covert operation which brought the insurgents and terrorist forces ever closer to Pakistan's nuclear stores.

Outside Lahore, they blew up a police station in a suburb of Kohat, killing at least 10 people and injuring 22. Many officers were buried under the rubble. But at the same time the Taliban gunmen built on their progress of Oct. 10, when they began fighting for control of the main road hub connecting Kohat and Kamra to Islamabad so as to be able to cut these nuclear centers off from the government and high command. Five days later, they advanced another step and tightened their siege on the Sargodha air base south of Kohat, which holds some of Pakistan's nuclear warheads.

India, Israel, mistrust Pakistani security personnel loyalty

It is true that the component parts of Pakistan's nuclear devices are stored in secured underground chambers and warheads are electronically locked separately to ensure they cannot be detonated even if they fall in terrorist hands.

However, DEBKA-Net-Weekly sources note, as Indian prime minister Singh told President Obama back in May, the base assumption of Indian intelligence is that the loyalties of the Pakistani officers and soldiers guarding the nuclear weapons may be up for grabs once Pakistan's nuclear treasures are in Taliban or al-Qaeda hands.

Quoting Indian intelligence reports, Singh said some Pakistani officers of the units guarding the Wah complex are in daily communication with Taliban chiefs in an effort to keep them at bay. He added: “We see the situation (of Pakistan's nuclear weapons) with the same clarity as Israel does.” In other words, the Indian prime minister shares Israeli skepticism about the integrity of Pakistan's nuclear security.

Shortly after the Oct. 10 attack, Gerald Steinberg, a professor of conflict management at Bar Ilan University, Israel made this comment: “The Israeli view is that Pakistan's weapons are less secure today than they were five years ago, and it seems they're even less secure than under the Musharraf government.”

He reported declining confidence in America's ability to control events and put plans into action for protecting Pakistan's nuclear stockpile.

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