'deeply concerned' about health of U.S. nuclear forces
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[January 25, 2014]
By David Alexander and Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Defense Secretary
Chuck Hagel said on Friday he was "deeply concerned," over the health of
U.S. nuclear forces after the drug and cheating scandals this month, and
that some nuclear officers felt their mission was taken for granted
during 13 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Hagel, who ordered a high-level review of nuclear forces on
Thursday, told a news conference that the problems affecting missile
launch officers were caused by a range of factors.
"There's no one issue here ... this is cultural," Hagel told
reporters, pointing to the physical isolation of the force, the
pressure to meet exacting standards through regular testing and an
incentive structure that may need improvement.
Over the past three weeks, an investigation has uncovered illegal
drug possession among some missile launch officers as well as
cheating on a proficiency exam that resulted in the suspension of 34
people and the retesting of the entire force.
The investigation came just months after the head of the
intercontinental ballistic missile force was fired for drunkenness
and other inappropriate behavior during an official nuclear security
visit to Moscow.
Hagel, in a swearing-in ceremony for Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee
James, insisted that U.S. nuclear arms are safe. But he added, "I am
deeply concerned ... about the overall health, professionalism and
discipline of our strategic forces."
"Recent allegations regarding our ICBM force raise legitimate
questions about this department's stewardship of one of our most
sensitive and important missions," he added.
Missile launch officers work out of remote bases, are tested
frequently and expected to meet extremely high standards of
performance while being offered few of the benefits received by
troops who served in Iraq or Afghanistan.
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"This country over the last 13 years has been committed to two long,
large land wars," Hagel said. "And I think that there has been a
sense ... we just take for granted that nuclear component of our
national strategic baseline."
Hagel said the high-level reviews he ordered on Thursday would look
at the overall culture of the U.S. nuclear forces and the problems
that have surfaced in recent months and devise a way forward.
(Editing by Alistair Bell and Leslie Adler)
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