Two senior officials in charge of nuclear weapons and strategy relieved of command

Even as it continues to put pressure on Syria to relinquish its chemical weapons, the fate of the U.S.’ nuclear weapons appears engulfed in a cloud of uncertainty after a string of top commanders and other staff charged with managing the stockpile were fired for incompetence in recent weeks.

The latest incident was revealed on Friday, when the U.S. Air Force announced that it had relieved Major General Michael Carey from command “due to a loss of trust and confidence in his leadership and judgment”.

Commenting on the decision to sack the two-star General, who is responsible for three wings of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) including 450 missiles at three bases across the country, Lieutenant General James Kowalski, Commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, said it was based on information from an Inspector-General’s investigation into General Carey’s behaviour during a temporary duty assignment.

He was quick to add that the allegations were not related to operational readiness and the Air Force continued to “execute its mission of around-the-clock nuclear deterrence in a safe, secure and effective manner”.

General Carey’s discharge comes scarcely two days after the Navy fired Vice Admiral Tim Giardina, the second-in-command at U.S. Strategic Command, which “writes the military’s nuclear war plans and would transmit launch orders should the nation ever go to nuclear war”. According to reports, the deputy commander of U.S. nuclear forces was removed from his post after being investigated for “using counterfeit chips at a casino”.

A series of similar investigations and firings had preceded these two high-profile sackings in the nuclear command.

In August, a nuclear missile base in Montana, which operates about one-third of the U.S.’ Minuteman III nuclear missiles, failed a safety test and subsequently let its security chief go.

At the time, officials said though the wing received an “unsatisfactory rating” for making “tactical level errors”, these errors were not related to the operation of nuclear missiles.

Similarly another Air Force unit with Minuteman III nuclear missiles, Minot Base in North Dakota, stunned the establishment when it announced in May this year that 17 officers responsible for the operation of missile launch control centres were being stripped of authority and required to undergo “60 to 90 days of intensive refresher training on how to do their jobs”.

With officials indicating that the action was necessitated by the unit performing “poorly” on an inspection, including a potential compromise of nuclear launch codes, the deputy commander of the group, Lt. Col. Jay Folds, reportedly said in an “emotional” e-mail, “We’re discovering such rot in the crew force… We are, in fact, in a crisis right now.”

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