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January 5, 2008

Special Forces on Standby

by Gordon Prather

Last July, after Pakistanis in the so-called "tribal areas" launched a series of attacks, including one against a Pakistani military convoy, in which 17 Pakistani soldiers were killed and 13 wounded, the Bush-Cheney administration publicly demanded that President Gen. Pervez Musharraf "rein in" those tribal Pakistanis. Or else.

Or else what?

Quoth White House spokesman Tony Snow:

"We certainly do not rule out options, and we retain the option especially of striking actionable targets, but it is clearly of the utmost importance to go in there and deal with the problem in the tribal areas."

Musharraf, at the urging of the White House, had already moved thousands of Pakistani troops into what had previously been semi-autonomous "tribal areas" such as North Waziristan.


Because, according to the then just-released National Intelligence Estimate –"The Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland" – even though "greatly increased worldwide counter-terrorism efforts over the past five years have constrained the ability of al-Qaeda to attack the U.S. homeland again and have led terrorist groups to perceive the Homeland as a harder target to strike than on 9/11," nevertheless:

"Al-Qaeda is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its capabilities.

"We assess the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its homeland attack capability, including: a safe haven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas…."

Hence, according to the accompanying White House fact sheet, "In Pakistan, we continue to work with President Musharraf and the government to capture key al-Qaeda operatives and pressure al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas."

Work "with" Musharraf? 

Our president had just told the president of Pakistan that if he couldn't "deal with the problem," as defined in our National Intelligence Estimate, our president would have to put on his commander-in-chief-in-the-War-Against-Terror hat and deal with it himself. That's working with Musharraf?

Well, you can imagine how that outrageous public threat by Bush against the top military man in Pakistan to "shape up or ship out" played all across Pakistan.

When President/General Musharraf – already widely considered to be a Bush puppet – couldn't deal with our "problem" to Bush's satisfaction, he was essentially forced by Bush to resign as Pakistan's army chief of staff.

Then, at least partially as a result of pressure by congressional Democrats and the impose-democracy-on-the-world crowd, President Bush essentially forced President Musharraf – now even more widely considered to be a Bush puppet – to schedule "free" elections for January 2008 and work out some sort of power-sharing arrangement with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Of course, if Eric Margolis is right, at least two-thirds of the "power" in Pakistan is wielded by the military (which General Musharraf used to head) while only about a third is wielded by the civilian "elected" government – which President Musharraf now heads – at least till elections are held.

And why does that matter so much?

Well, according to a recent report [.pdf] by the Congressional Research Service:

"Pakistan's nuclear arsenal consists of approximately 60 nuclear warheads. Pakistan continues fissile material production for weapons, and is adding to its weapons production facilities and delivery vehicles. Pakistan reportedly stores its warheads unassembled with the fissile core separate from non-nuclear explosives, and these are stored separately from their delivery vehicles. Pakistan does not have a stated nuclear policy, but its 'minimum credible deterrent' is thought to be primarily a deterrent to Indian military action. Command and control structures have been dramatically overhauled since September 11, 2001, and export controls and personnel security programs have been put in place since the 2004 revelations about Pakistan's top nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan's international proliferation network.

"Pakistani and some U.S. officials argue that Islamabad has taken a number of steps to prevent further proliferation of nuclear-related technologies and materials and improve its nuclear security. A number of important initiatives such as strengthened export control laws, improved personnel security, and international nuclear security cooperation programs have improved the security situation in recent years.

"Current instability in Pakistan has called the extent and durability of these reforms into question. Some observers fear radical takeover of a government that possesses a nuclear bomb, or proliferation by radical sympathizers within Pakistan's nuclear complex in case of a breakdown of controls. While U.S. and Pakistani officials express confidence in controls over Pakistan's nuclear weapons, it is uncertain what impact continued instability in the country will have on these safeguards."

Of course, if all those reports about Pakistani stockpiled nukes not being fully assembled – with the fissile material (either almost pure uranium-235 or almost pure plutonium-239) removable and stored separately – are true, then they would be much like our first-generation nukes, probably too large and heavy to be deliverable by fighter-bomber or ballistic missile, low yield, perhaps not much of a deterrent, but just the sort of thing a terrorist would love to haul off in his pickup truck.

Hence, U.S. Special Forces are reported to be on "standby," ready to "deal with the problem," i.e., to seize or disable Pakistan's nuke stockpile in the event of the collapse of government authority or the outbreak of civil war.

How about the special 10,000-man Pakistani military force – commanded by Gen. Musharraf's replacement –entrusted with preventing that sort of seizure?

Well, here is what Dictator/General Musharraf had to say about Pakistan's nukes at an awards and retirement ceremony for A.Q. Khan and others back in 2000:

"Our strategy rests on minimum credible [nuclear] deterrence. Our force goals are well defined. The quality and quantity of these goals is to be maintained at all cost, at all times, under all circumstances. There never has been, and there never will be, any compromises in this resolve, come what may.

"I would like to reiterate this resolve on this occasion, loud and clear in military terms: Death before dishonor. …

"We will take whatever pressures come. We will do whatever it takes to ward off such pressures. We will find the resources to back your [nuclear scientists'] work.

"The nation is united on this issue. There are no ambiguities whatsoever here."

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Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.

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