Taliban terrorists know where some of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are stored based on information from allies inside the country’s national security forces.
A military source tells HUMAN EVENTS the Taliban and al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan’s western frontier have ties to elements of the Pakistan army and Inter-Services Intelligence. The ISI helped put the Taliban in power in Afghanistan in 1996s. Its agents have helped it carry out attacks, including the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul.
It is through these contacts that the Taliban and its extremist allies know the locations of some nuclear warheads. Pakistan is believed to have about 60 atomic bomb and missile warheads. They are mostly kept around the capital of Islamabad, in districts where army control is at its tightest. Some missiles are mobile and are periodically moved to different locations.
A U.S. official downplayed the chances that Taliban or al Qaeda can steal nukes, saying Pakistan has effective controls. Any knowledge the terrorists have on the arsenal is not sufficient to allow them to gain access, the official asserted to HUMAN EVENTS.
But the military source said extremists have sources within Pakistan’s nuclear security units. The real problem, the source said, is that if nuclear-armed India believes terrorists have access to those weapons, it could spark a new conflict between the two countries.
"Short-term our greatest threat is the Taliban gaining access to those weapons," the source said.
Alarm over the prospect of Islamic terrorists seizing nukes heighten this spring, as Taliban forces briefly controlled territory close to the Pakistan capital. Some experts saw the beginning of an Iran-style revolution, in which the government collapses under the weight of extremists outside and inside the army and intelligence service.
Since then, government forces have mounted a concerted counter-insurgency operation in the so-called ungoverned areas of Pakistan. Fears of a nuclear takeover waned for a while. And Obama administration officials have gone out of their way to assure the nation that Pakistan’s nukes will not fall into the hands of Osama bin Laden.
But last week, Rep. John Murtha, a powerful force on national security issues in his role as chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense, said he did not share the administration’s confidence.
In terms of international threats, the prospect of the Taliban-al Qaeda axis taking over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal "is absolutely what I look at and worry about the most," he told defense reporters, according to the Global Security Newswire.
Murtha said he has discussed the issue with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Adm. Michael Mullen, Joint Chiefs chairman, as well as Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence, and CIA Director Leon Panetta.
"We think we know where the weapons are," Murtha said. "I don’t know that we know, but they think they know."
"One thing for sure, we’ve got to be prepared if it goes the wrong way, to [secure] those sites," Global Security quoted him as saying. "And we have contingency plans, obviously, to do that."
At a budget hearing on Capitol Hill, a lawmaker asked Mullen about contingency plans to secure Pakistan’s nukes. He declined to answer.
At a May 19 Pentagon briefing, Gates’ press secretary, Geoff Morrell, said, "We are comfortable with their security measures, and I’m sure that our planners take whatever requisite action is required to ensure that that the arsenal in a country that is obviously in the midst of a great deal — that finds itself with a great deal of challenges right now that they have some visibility on where such weapons are located."
Three days before Murtha spoke, al Qaeda’s No. 3, Mustafa Abul-Yazeed, told the al Jazeera news network his group would use Pakistan’s nuclear weapons against the United States.
"By God’s will, the Americans will not seize the Muslims nuclear weapons and we pray that Muslims will have these weapons and they will be used against the Americans," he told al Jazeera.
In his memoir, "At the Center of the Storm," former CIA Director George Tenet said al Qaeda has an intense interest in obtaining and using weapons of mass destruction.
"Our intelligence confirmed that the most senior leaders of al Qaeda are still singularly focused on acquiring WMD," he wrote. "Bin Laden may have provided the spiritual guidance to develop WMD, but the program was personally managed at the top by his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Moreover, we established beyond any reasonable doubt that al Qaeda had a clear intent to acquire chemical, biological and radiological/nuclear weapons, to possess not as a deterrent but to cause mass casualties in the United States."
How would the Taliban-al Qaeda alliance know the location of some Pakistan nukes?
For one, A. Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb, was exporting the technology through an illicit network to help some of the world’s worst dictators build such weapons. His operatives surely have some knowledge of the military arsenal and have contacts with extremists themselves.
What’s more, HUMAN EVENTS reported last August that elements of Pakistan’s army aide the extremists by providing them with weapons and training. Rogue army officers surely have some knowledge of their country’s nuclear arms.
"Pakistani government and the military in particular are not monolithic," said a senior U.S. official told Human Events. "In some areas, there’s very good counter-terrorism cooperation with us. In other areas, there is plenty of room for improvement. There are elements within the government and military that might have some links to militant groups in the region. That is a matter of concern."
The New York Times reported that members of Pakistan’s spy agency helped militants who bombed the India embassy in Afghanistan. The Times said there are intercepts of Pakistani ISI agents speaking directly to the terrorists.