- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2008

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates ousted the Air Force’s top military and civilian leaders Thursday, holding them to account in a historic Pentagon shake-up after embarrassing and potentially disastrous nuclear mix-ups.

Mr. Gates announced at a news conference that he accepted the resignations of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley and Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne - a highly unusual double firing.

Mr. Gates cited two incidents in the past year. In one, a B-52 bomber was mistakenly armed with six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and flown across the country without anyone realizing nuclear weapons were aboard.

In the other, four electrical fuses for ballistic missile warheads were mistakenly sent to Taiwan in the place of helicopter batteries. Mr. Gates said an internal investigation found a common theme in the B-52 and Taiwan incidents: “a decline in the Air Force’s nuclear mission focus and performance.”

In a reflection of his concern about the state of nuclear security, Mr. Gates said he asked former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger to lead a task force that will recommend ways to ensure the highest levels of accountability and control are maintained in Air Force handling of nuclear weapons.

In somber tones, Mr. Gates said his decision to remove Mr. Wynne and Gen. Moseley was based on the findings of an investigation of the Taiwan debacle by Adm. Kirkland H. Donald. The admiral found a “lack of a critical self-assessment culture” in the Air Force, making it unlikely that weaknesses in the way critical materials such as nuclear weapons are handled could be corrected, Mr. Gates said.

Mr. Gates said Adm. Donald concluded that many of the problems that led to the B-52 and the Taiwan sale incidents “have been known or should have been known.” Mr. Gates said his priorities, after reading the Donald report, were to fix the problems it identified and to hold Air Force leaders accountable.

The Donald report is classified; Mr. Gates provided an oral summary.

“The Taiwan incident clearly was the trigger,” Mr. Gates said when asked whether Gen. Moseley and Mr. Wynne would have retained their positions in the absence of the mistaken shipment of fuses. He also said Adm. Donald found a “lack of effective Air Force leadership oversight” of its nuclear mission.

Mr. Gates said he would make recommendations to President Bush shortly on a new Air Force chief of staff and civilian secretary.

Mr. Wynne and Gen. Moseley issued their own written statements.

“As the Air Force’s senior uniformed leader, I take full responsibility for events which have hurt the Air Force’s reputation or raised a question of every airman’s commitment to our core values,” Gen. Moseley said.

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