U.S. helicopters PakistanYesterday I posted that Pakistani fear of the United States attempting to seize its nuclear-weapons arsenal is at an all-time high. As Yochi Dreazen wrote at the National Journal, “the ease with which elite U.S. forces jammed Pakistan’s advanced air defense systems and mounted a precision operation deep inside Pakistani territory is eroding the Pakistani military’s standing in the eyes of its own people and raising new questions there about whether the U.S. could one day mount a similar push to grab Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.”

As I mentioned, one obstacle to that course of action is that

The West doesn’t know all the locations of Iran’s (however peaceful thus far) nuclear program, thus rendering preemptive bombing inevitably incomplete. Neither does the West know the location of all of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, thus making it impossible to take complete control of its program.

I also cited an article I wrote for Asia Times Online in 2009 titled Keeping Pakistan’s nukes extremist-free. I had contacted veteran British reporter Brian Coughley, South Asian defense analyst for Jane’s, who also wrote War, Coups and Terror: Pakistan’s Army in Years of Turmoil (Skyhorse Publishing, 2009). As recently as April of this year he wrote an article on Pakistan’s nuclear security for Jane’s Intelligence Review (requires paying a — steep — subscription fee). In my ATimes piece I wrote:

Cloughley’s extensive experience with the Pakistani military has left him with respect for its professionalism and much less concern for the security of its nuclear weapons than Washington expresses.

Besides, British columnist Johann Hari wrote:

Every time the US military has war-gamed sending in troops . . . it has ended in a horrific bloodbath — and the weapons still eluding their control.

Cloughley agreed.

It would, indeed, be a bloodbath if any attempt were made to insert special forces. How anyone in their right mind could even suggest such a scenario is beyond me.

Nevertheless, at my request, he provided one.

In spite of its being lunacy, the attempt . . . to clandestinely insert special forces teams . . . might well go ahead. This could be done by having them join the embassy in the guise of marine guards, or be accepted as part of a liaison or training mission, then, in civilian vehicles, moving to the various sites to attempt to take them over.

This could be concurrent with heliborne [air assault by helicopters] insertion from Afghanistan or carrier(s). There would have to be a large number of teams, but I’m not prepared to provide an assessment of how many.

The helicopter operation would have to involve complete dominance of Pakistan’s airspace, mounted from Afghanistan and carriers from the Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean. This would excite the attention of the Pakistan Air Force which would attempt to deny control. The air war would be intense and end in favor of the USAF/USN, although their casualties would be high.

This would escalate into all-out war, and Pakistan would attempt to involve the UN, which would be vetoed by the US and the UK. China and Russia, for once, would join hands in condemnation. The entire Muslim world would go berserk.

It is possible — just — that some weapons could be taken over, but the sites are extremely well-guarded (although their ground-based air defenses are minimal). Fighting would be intense, with already earmarked army units coming to the aid of the guard units. By this time, the US Embassy would be under siege and all foreigners’ lives would be at grave risk. There would be chaos on a very large scale indeed.

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