We hear about the dangers of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons getting into the wrong hands, and we know that means those we think might be the “right” hands are also probably the “wrong” hands. With America closing it’s eyes to Iran’s nuclear goals, but wringing its hands nevertheless, Pakistan is by far the greater danger.
The Atlantic – The Ally From Hell:(authors Jeffrey Goldberg and Marc Ambinder)
Pakistan lies. It hosted Osama bin Laden (knowingly or not). Its government is barely functional. It hates the democracy next door. It is home to both radical jihadists and a large and growing nuclear arsenal (which it fears the U.S. will seize). Its intelligence service sponsors terrorists who attack American troops. With a friend like this, who needs enemies?
Pakistan would be an obvious place for a jihadist organization to seek a nuclear weapon or fissile material: it is the only Muslim-majority state, out of the 50 or so in the world, to have successfully developed nuclear weapons; its central government is of limited competence and has serious trouble projecting its authority into many corners of its territory (on occasion it has difficulty maintaining order even in the country’s largest city, Karachi); Pakistan’s military and security services are infiltrated by an unknown number of jihadist sympathizers; and many jihadist organizations are headquartered there already…
Much more challenging than capturing and disabling a loose nuke or two, however, would be seizing control of—or at least disabling—the entire Pakistani nuclear arsenal in the event of a jihadist coup, civil war, or other catastrophic event. This “disablement campaign,” as one former senior Special Operations planner calls it, would be the most taxing, most dangerous of any special mission that JSOC could find itself tasked with—orders of magnitude more difficult and expansive than Abbottabad. The scale of such an operation would be too large for U.S. Special Operations components alone, so an across-the-board disablement campaign would be led by U.S. Central Command—the area command that is responsible for the Middle East and Central Asia, and runs operations in Afghanistan and Iraq—and U.S. Pacific Command…
At the same time American military and intelligence forces have been training in the U.S for such a disablement campaign, they have also been quietly pre-positioning the necessary equipment in the region. In the event of a coup, U.S. forces would rush into the country, crossing borders, rappelling down from helicopters, and parachuting out of airplanes, so they could begin securing known or suspected nuclear-storage sites. According to the former senior Special Operations planner, JSOC units’ first tasks might be to disable tactical nuclear weapons—because those are more easily mated, and easier to move around, than long-range missiles…
But nuclear experts issue a cautionary note: it is not clear that American intelligence can identify the locations of all of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, particularly after the Abbottabad raid. “Anyone who tells you that they know where all of Pakistan’s nukes are is lying to you,” General James Jones, President Obama’s first national-security adviser, has said, according to a source who heard him say it. (When asked by the authors of this article about his statement, General Jones issued a “no comment.”) Another American former official with nuclear expertise says, “We don’t even know, on any given day, exactly how many weapons they have. We can get within plus or minus 10, but that’s about it.”
The article linked above is long and detailed, and includes information on how nuclear weapons are moved around within Pakistan – no special containment vehicles, just loaded onto wheels and moved. What you read above are snippets.
The Captain’s Journal speculates the part of the U.S. Marines in any mission to find, capture or disable Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, and it goes without saying, we are cutting Military funding and seem to have no interest in growing the numbers of our troops.
First, while the Marines are mentioned in the planning, I believe that they would have to play a much larger role than described by the authors for the simple reason that long range planning is irrelevant. There aren’t enough special operations troopers who can be permanently assigned the billet of waiting until Pakistan appears to be teetering on the brink of disaster to respond.
To be sure, while such an operation would rely heavily on SEALs, Delta Force and other elements of special operations, including Rangers, this would require force protection in the thousands while special operations breached the compounds and located the weapons. No branch of the service has this kind of “force in readiness” but the Marines. Rangers and other troops are needed in other parts of the world conducting critical missions. They can’t sit and wait until Pakistan devolves into chaos. They’re busy troops.
Herschel Smith at The Captain’s Journal (linked above) highlights the magnitude of the threat to the world, the enormity of trying to render harmless our greatest threat, and the war planning that either has or has not been underway for years in the Pentagon:
Finally, the U.S. would have to have a President who had the stomach to pull all of this off. The losses could be significant, and there is at least the possibility, perhaps even the probability, that some nuclear assets would be left behind or that the operation would be a colossal failure. The President would have to explain to the American public why he undertook such an action regardless of the outcome.
A quick look around the globe and we see numerous allies from hell, but only one is fully nuclear. Today, we have the capability to do something about Iran, but can we do anything about Pakistan?