The Air Force notified Defense Secretary Robert Gates early on Aug. 31 of the “situation involving the transfer of weapons from Minot AFB, N.D., to Barksdale AFB, La.,” on the previous day, so states Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Ed Thomas. Neither Thomas nor DOD Press Secretary Geoff Morrell in a press briefing yesterday would confirm that the weapons transported aboard a B-52 bomber were missiles with nuclear warheads. However, it’s been widely reported that they were unarmed nukes. How this happened is now the subject of an investigation led by Maj. Gen. Douglas Raaberg, Air Combat Command’s director of air and space operations, but the command already has fired the munitions squadron commander at Minot and “temporarily decertified” some airmen from their normal munitions duties. Thomas referred to this incident as an “isolated mistake” that was “discovered by airmen during internal Air Force checks.” He maintained that “at no time was there a threat to public safety.” The actual transport of the missiles via the B-52 was part of a regularly scheduled movement of such weapons that normally takes place under rigorous handling and safety requirements. Thomas labeled the “deviation” from well-established munitions procedures “very serious.” According to Morrell, the Air Force expects to provide a full report to Gates by the end of this week. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has vowed to “pursue answers on this classified matter” and to ensure the Air Force and DOD “strengthen controls more generally.”
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.