Guards in training for Pakistani nuclear arsenal

Fear heightens of U.S. seizure

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan is training 8,000 additional people to protect the country’s nuclear arsenal, which the U.S. fears could be vulnerable to penetration by Islamist militants at war with the West, the Pakistani military said.

Those fears were heightened by a recentarticle in the Atlantic magazine that quoted unnamed Pakistani and U.S. officials as saying Pakistan transports nuclear weapons components around the country in delivery vans with little security to avoid detection - a claim denied by Islamabad.

Pakistan insists its nuclear arsenal is well-defended, and the widespread fear among many Pakistanis is that the main threat stems not from al Qaeda or the Taliban, but from suspected U.S. plans to seize the country’s weapons.

Those fears were heightened by the covert U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May.

Washington has insisted it has no plans to seize Pakistan’s weapons. But the Atlantic quoted unnamed U.S. military and intelligence officials as saying the U.S. has trained extensively for potential missions in Pakistan to secure nuclear weapons or material that fall into the wrong hands.

Pakistan rarely reveals details about its nuclear program or the security around it. The announcement by the Pakistani military that it is training an additional 8,000 people to protect the nuclear arsenal could be seen as a response to the magazine article.

“This [group] comprises hand-picked officers and men, who are physically robust, mentally sharp and equipped with modern weapons and equipment,” the Pakistani military said in a written statement Sunday.

The statement was released in conjunction with the graduation of 700 of these security personnel. The ceremony was attended by Maj. Gen. Muhammad Tahir, head of security for the Strategic Plans Division - the arm of the Pakistani military tasked with protecting the nuclear arsenal.

Gen. Tahir “reiterated that extensive resources have been made available to train, equip, deploy and sustain an independent and potent security force to meet any and every threat emanating from any quarter,” according to the statement.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry also put out a statement Sunday calling the allegations in the Atlantic “pure fiction.”

Fear that the U.S. could seize Pakistan’s nuclear weapons is driven by widespread anti-Americanism in the country.

Despite billions of dollars in U.S. aid, 69 percent of people in the country view the U.S. as an enemy, according to a poll conducted by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center in June. The poll had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

The U.S. Embassy said Monday that it has confidence that Pakistan is aware of the range of threats to its nuclear arsenal and has given high priority to securing its weapons and material.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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