Archive for May, 2009

Taxpayers work for atomic weapons

May 18, 2009
May 18, 2009

Pakistan Is Rapidly Adding Nuclear Arms, U.S. Says

WASHINGTON — Members of Congress have been told in confidential briefings that Pakistan is rapidly adding to its nuclear arsenal even while racked by insurgency, raising questions on Capitol Hill about whether billions of dollars in proposed military aid might be diverted to Pakistan’s nuclear program.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed the assessment of the expanded arsenal in a one-word answer to a question on Thursday in the midst of lengthy Senate testimony. Sitting beside Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, he was asked whether he had seen evidence of an increase in the size of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal.

“Yes,” he said quickly, adding nothing, clearly cognizant of Pakistan’s sensitivity to any discussion about the country’s nuclear strategy or security.

Inside the Obama administration, some officials say, Pakistan’s drive to spend heavily on new nuclear arms has been a source of growing concern, because the country is producing more nuclear material at a time when Washington is increasingly focused on trying to assure the security of an arsenal of 80 to 100 weapons so that they will never fall into the hands of Islamic insurgents.

The administration’s effort is complicated by the fact that Pakistan is producing an unknown amount of new bomb-grade uranium and, once a series of new reactors is completed, bomb-grade plutonium for a new generation of weapons. President Obama has called for passage of a treaty that would stop all nations from producing more fissile material — the hardest part of making a nuclear weapon — but so far has said nothing in public about Pakistan’s activities.

Bruce Riedel, the Brookings Institution scholar who served as the co-author of Mr. Obama’s review of Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, reflected the administration’s concern in a recent interview, saying that Pakistan “has more terrorists per square mile than anyplace else on earth, and it has a nuclear weapons program that is growing faster than anyplace else on earth.”

Obama administration officials said that they had communicated to Congress that their intent was to assure that military aid to Pakistan was directed toward counterterrorism and not diverted. But Admiral Mullen’s public confirmation that the arsenal is increasing — a view widely held in both classified and unclassified analyses — seems certain to aggravate Congress’s discomfort.

Whether that discomfort might result in a delay or reduction in aid to Pakistan is still unclear.

The Congressional briefings have taken place in recent weeks as Pakistan has descended into further chaos and as Congress has considered proposals to spend $3 billion over the next five years to train and equip Pakistan’s military for counterinsurgency warfare. That aid would come on top of $7.5 billion in civilian assistance.

None of the proposed military assistance is directed at the nuclear program. So far, America’s aid to Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure has been limited to a $100 million classified program to help Pakistan secure its weapons and materials from seizure by Al Qaeda, the Taliban or “insiders” with insurgent loyalties.

But the billions in new proposed American aid, officials acknowledge, could free other money for Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure, at a time when Pakistani officials have expressed concern that their nuclear program is facing a budget crunch for the first time, worsened by the global economic downturn. The program employs tens of thousands of Pakistanis, including about 2,000 believed to possess “critical knowledge” about how to produce a weapon.

The dimensions of the Pakistani buildup are not fully understood. “We see them scaling up their centrifuge facilities,” said David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security, which has been monitoring Pakistan’s continued efforts to buy materials on the black market, and analyzing satellite photographs of two new plutonium reactors less than 100 miles from where Pakistani forces are currently fighting the Taliban.

“The Bush administration turned a blind eye to how this is being ramped up,” he said. “And of course, with enough pressure, all this could be preventable.”

As a matter of diplomacy, however, the buildup presents Mr. Obama with a potential conflict between two national security priorities, some aides concede. One is to win passage of a global agreement to stop the production of fissile material — the uranium or plutonium used to produce weapons. Pakistan has never agreed to any limits and is one of three countries, along with India and Israel, that never signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Yet the other imperative is a huge infusion of financial assistance into Afghanistan and Pakistan, money considered crucial to helping stabilize governments with tenuous holds on power in the face of terrorist and insurgent violence.

Senior members of Congress were already pressing for assurances from Pakistan that the American military assistance would be used to fight the insurgency, and not be siphoned off for more conventional military programs to counter Pakistan’s historic adversary, India. Official confirmation that Pakistan has accelerated expansion of its nuclear program only added to the consternation of those in Congress who were already voicing serious concern about the security of those warheads.

During a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Senator Jim Webb, a Virginia Democrat, veered from the budget proposal under debate to ask Admiral Mullen about public reports “that Pakistan is, at the moment, increasing its nuclear program — that it may be actually adding on to weapons systems and warheads. Do you have any evidence of that?”

It was then that Admiral Mullen responded with his one-word confirmation. Mr. Webb said Pakistan’s decision was a matter of “enormous concern,” and he added, “Do we have any type of control factors that would be built in, in terms of where future American money would be going, as it addresses what I just asked about?”

Similar concerns about seeking guarantees that American military assistance to Pakistan would be focused on battling insurgents also were expressed by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee chairman.

“Unless Pakistan’s leaders commit, in deeds and words, their country’s armed forces and security personnel to eliminating the threat from militant extremists, and unless they make it clear that they are doing so, for the sake of their own future, then no amount of assistance will be effective,” Mr. Levin said.

A spokesman for the Pakistani government contacted Friday declined to comment on whether his nation was expanding its nuclear weapons program, but said the government was “maintaining the minimum, credible deterrence capability.” He warned against linking American financial assistance to Pakistan’s actions on its weapons program.

“Conditions or sanctions on this issue did not work in the past, and this will not send a positive message to the people of Pakistan,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because his country’s nuclear program is classified.

The Last Stand of a Tiger

May 18, 2009

Sri Lanka: Tamil Tiger rebel chief has been killed

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka declared Monday it had crushed the Tamil Tiger rebels, killing their chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran, and ending his three-decade quest for an independent homeland for minority Tamils.

State television broke into its regular programming to announce Prabhakaran’s death, and the government information department sent a text message to cell phones across the country confirming he was killed along with top deputies, Soosai and Pottu Amman.

The announcement sparked mass celebrations around the country, and people poured into the streets of Colombo dancing and singing.

Prabhakaran’s death has been seen as crucial in bringing closure to this war-wracked Indian Ocean island nation. If he had escaped, he could have used his large international smuggling network and the support of Tamil expatriates to spark a new round of guerrilla warfare here. His death in battle could still turn him into a martyr for other Tamil separatists.

Sri Lanka’s army chief, Lt. Gen. Sareth Fonseka, said on television that his troops routed the last rebels from the northern war zone Monday morning and were working to identify Prabhakaran’s body from among the dead.

“We can announce very responsibly that we have liberated the whole country from terrorism,” he told state television. It was widely presumed Fonseka was waiting for President Mahinda Rajapaksa to announce Prabhakaran’s death.

Fonseka and the commanders of the other security forces were scheduled to formally inform the president of the victory Monday evening.

Senior military officials said troops closed in on Prabhakaran and his final cadre early Monday.

He and his top deputies then drove an armor-plated van accompanied by a bus filled with rebel fighters toward approaching Sri Lankan forces, sparking a two-hour firefight, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Troops eventually fired a rocket at the van, ending the battle, they said. Troops pulled Prabhakaran’s body from the van and identified it as that of the rebel leader, they said. The attack also killed Soosai, the head of the rebels’ naval wing, and Pottu Amman, the group’s feared intelligence commander, the officials said.

Suren Surendiran, a spokesman for the British Tamils’ Forum, the largest organization for expatriate Tamils in Britain, said the community was in despair.

“The people are very somber and very saddened. But we are ever determined and resilient to continue our struggle for Eelam,” he said, invoking the name of the Tamils hoped-for independent state. “We have to win the freedom and liberation of our people.”

But in Colombo, which had suffered countless rebel bombings, people set of fireworks, danced and sang in the streets.

“Myself and most of my friends gathered here have narrowly escaped bombs set off by the Tigers. Some of our friends were not lucky,” said Lal Hettige, 47, a businessman celebrating in Colombo’s outdoor market. “We are happy today to see the end of that ruthless terrorist organization and its heartless leader. We can live in peace after this.”

The chubby, mustachioed Prabhakaran turned what was little more than a street gang in the late 1970s into one of the world’s most feared insurgencies. He demanded unwavering loyalty and gave his followers vials of cyanide to wear around their necks and bite into in case of capture.

At the height of his power, he controlled a shadow state in northern Sri Lankan and commanded a force that including an infantry, backed by artillery, a significant naval wing and a nascent air force.

He also controlled a suicide squad known as the Black Tigers that was blamed for scores of deadly attacks. The rebels were branded a terror group and condemned for forcibly conscripting child soldiers.

Earlier, the military announced it had killed several top rebel leaders, including Prabhakaran’s son Charles Anthony, also a rebel leader. The military said special forces also found the bodies of the rebels’ political wing leader, Balasingham Nadesan, the head of the rebels’ peace secretariat, Seevaratnam Puleedevan, and one of the top military leaders, known as Ramesh.

The rebels have been fighting since 1983 for a separate state for Sri Lanka‘s ethnic Tamil minority after years of marginalization at the hands of the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting.

Government forces ousted the rebels from their shadow state in the north in recent months and brought the group to its knees. Thousands of civilians were reportedly killed in the recent fighting.

Senior diplomats had appealed for a humanitarian cease-fire in recent weeks to safeguard the tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the war zone, but the government refused, and denied persistent reports it was shelling the densely populated war zone.

Diplomats in Brussels said Monday the European Union will endorse a call for an independent war crimes investigation into the killing of civilians in Sri Lanka. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because discussions were ongoing.

The rebels were also accused of using the civilians as human shields and shooting at some who fled.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband says there have been “very grave allegations” of war crimes on both sides of the conflict adding “they should be properly investigated.”

The U.N. said 7,000 civilians were killed in the fighting between Jan. 20 and May 7. Health officials in the area said more than a 1,000 others were killed since then.

On Monday, more than a thousand angry Sri Lankans protested outside the British Embassy in Colombo, pelting it with rocks and eggs and burning an effigy of Miliband and throwing it inside the compound. Protesters held posters calling Miliband a “white Tiger,” and several tried to climb the embassy’s high walls.