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Terrorism & Security

NATO dismisses nuclear security concerns after militants strike Pakistani naval base

The Taliban assault highlights military weaknesses but many experts say Pakistan adequately safeguards its nuclear arsenal against attack.

By Correspondent / May 24, 2011

Pakistai Navy officers pay tribute to their colleague who was killed in a militant attack on a naval aviation base, during his funeral in Lahore, Pakistan on Tuesday, May 24. A police account of a deadly, 18-hour Taliban assault on a Pakistani naval base says there were twice as many attackers as the number claimed by the government and navy, adding to the questions surrounding the incident.



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With details emerging about how Pakistani Taliban militants infiltrated one of Pakistan's main naval bases, much of the talk has focused on what the attack indicates about the country's ability to safeguard its nuclear weapons.

The Taliban said the assault – carried out by a small team of militants who destroyed two US-made surveillance planes and killed at least 10 security officers – was meant to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden. Bloomberg called the attack "the deepest strike into an armed forces facility since militants stormed a building in the army’s general headquarters in Rawalpindi in 2009."

On a visit to Afghanistan Tuesday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that the assault raised concerns, but that ultimately, he said Pakistan's nuclear weapons were secure, Agence France-Presse reported.

Pakistan has made significant efforts to keep the majority of the country's military personnel uninvolved in guarding its nuclear weapons. The Strategic Plans Division, a unit of about 10,000 that is kept largely separate from the rest of the military, bears the responsibility of guarding the country's nuclear stockpile, which is estimated to be between 70 and 120 warheads.

Personnel working with the weapons are screened every two years, and only 5 percent of those screened are actually cleared for the work, The New York Times reports. Bases with nuclear weapons have much more stringent security than those without and attacks at those bases have typically been easily thwarted.

The International Atomic Energy Agency "expressed fears" in 2008 about the country's control of its nuclear arsenal. The public concern prompted Pakistan, normally very secretive about its stockpile, to make several public assurances that its weapons were being kept safe, Bloomberg reported. A Reuters briefing notes that the US has been publicly supportive of Pakistan – in 2009, President Obama said he was "confident" about its nuclear weapon security, although the weakness of Pakistan's government concerned him.


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