ISLAMABAD: Some Islamabad-based diplomats from countries actively supporting the US-led 'war on terror' are not willing to confirm or refute reports that US forces now located in Central Asia and ready to jump into Afghanistan, have already been armed with "tactical nuclear weapons."
But Debka, an Israel-based news and intelligence analysis portal, is already claiming that "US nuclear weapons have been deployed in four former Soviet Central Asian bases: the military air facility at Tuzel, 15 km (10 miles) northwest of the Uzbek capital, Tashkent; at Kagady in the Termez region; in Khandabad, near the city of Karshi; and at the military air base in Dushanbe (the capital of Tajikistan)."
Without specifying the mark, design and calibre of the said weapons, the Israeli news portal only described the supposedly deployed weapons as: "small neutron bombs, which emit strong radiation, nuclear mines, shells, and other nuclear ammunition suited to commando warfare in mountainous terrain."
Analysts and strategists are wondering whether America was again on the verge of becoming the first country to use neutron bombs, after it acquired the infamy of dropping the first atom bomb in Japan, something it finds embarrassing to live with even today.
Debka also claimed that the decision to deploy the tactical weapons, before the US and its allied forces really move to get Osama and his Al-Qaeda, had been agreed during the 70-minute conversation, the US president had on phone with his Russian counterpart on September 23. The News had already reported Thursday that as a consequence of the said talk, Pushtu and the Dari speaking troops of Russia joined the Delta and Seal commandos of the USA in crawling up to the heights of Pamir, where the US and its allies are getting convinced Osama and his diehard loyalists are maintaining a hi-tech and state of the art command and control center.
But Debka seems to believe that the Russian role in 'war against terror' is not limited to sharing intelligence on Osama and his possible hideouts in Afghanistan. Lending some of its Pushtu and Dari speaking troops for reaching these sites is not the end of the story either. The "strategic partnership" between the arch-rivals of the cold war rather appears growing on multiple fronts.
As quid-pro-quo to Russia's agreeing on the deployment of tactical weapons in areas, Moscow jealously considers its "sphere of influence," Putin also got "no objections" from President Bush for encircling independence seeking Chechnya with ready-to-use tactical weapons. Debka even claims that parallel to the deployment of tactical weapons by the USA in Central Asian territory, Moscow had also completed putting the same kind of the lethal material around Chechnya.
They are reported to have been deployed at "Stavropol, northwest of Chechnya, the Codowta base in the Georgian south, and Mozdok in northern Osetia." Moscow and Washington are not willing to discuss a thing with journalists, regarding their collaborative moves in 'war against terrorism.' Yet, Debka could claim to have it from unnamed "military sources" that the USA would not be the first to use the nuclear weapons in Afghanistan.
They are deployed for use, "only in certain extreme circumstances," which have been described like this: (1) To counter a move by bin Laden's men to bring out nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against the US forces fighting inside Afghanistan. (2) In case of a chemical or biological assault "by the Taliban against Pakistan." (3) Should groups of bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network -- either in Central Asia or the Balkans -- wield these weapons of mass destruction against US military targets or US nuclear arms in other parts of the world. And (4), if using them is the only way to save heavy American combat casualties.
With the condition of not named, a respected defence analyst of Pakistan agreed with the claim that the US would only use the "tactical weapons" in case of the "extreme circumstances" described above. Though, he wasn't very sure that the US had already completed the deployment of "the nuke-related goodies" so close to Afghanistan. "Hawks around Dick Cheney (The US Vice President) are dying to nuke Afghanistan, no doubt. They ask for it for assuaging the blind ire of the US public over the suicide-hijack attacks of September 11, which the jingoistic media is fuelling every minute.
But the use of the neutron bomb at Osama-related sites in Afghanistan may only come in dismal circumstances," explained the expert. The US has a variety of air-to-surface "smart bombs," which can eliminate the smallest concentration of the enemy troops without destroying the physical structures and buildings around.
"But the radiation wouldn't stop after elimination of the enemy troops," stressed the expert. In simple terms that means, the expert went on, "the US ground forces can't land at spots where the smart bombs have been dropped. At least for many months to come. Till, you get very sure that radiation had completely stopped."
Some other defence sources, The News talked to Sunday agreed with our expert. "After bombing the suspected hide outs of Osama and his group in Afghanistan, the US needs to quickly land its ground troops at the bombed spots. To check out whether Osama, or any of his dreaded lieutenant, is really dead. The use of nuclear bombs, how 'smart' they may be, would cancel out the option of physically verifying whether Osama is really dead by sifting through the dead bodies at the bombed spots," they all believed.
To insist that the use of nuclear weapons in Afghanistan for getting Osama was not the preferable option, some experts also referred to the Sunday edition of The Observer, London. After briefed by the "sources in the intelligence community," the paper reported: "An absolute priority (for the US and its allied troops in Afghanistan) had to be placed on his (Osama's) delivery for trial in the US, or else production of a forensically verifiable corpse."
Instead of widespread military strikes against the Taliban regime of Afghanistan, the Observer maintains, the US prefers to focus its act on getting Osama. "Officials in the Justice Department and intelligence services believe that the bin Laden network, still operative in cells across the globe, would implode if he were beheaded. Cut off the snake's head and the body shrivels up," reports the paper.
The focused moves of getting Osama, "Dead or alive" as the US president had declared like a true Texan, do not cancel out the possibility of deploying tactical weapons as part of the military build up in Central Asia, however. Though the USSR is no more for almost a decade, almost each leader of the newly liberated Central Asian states runs his country through the Stalinist methods of "total control." The notions of transparency and free press are still too alien to these countries.
The governments of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are still not willing even to officially confirm the news stories, reported by The Washington Post and CNN, that over 1, 000 American light infantry troops had already landed in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan for the ultimate objective of crossing into Afghanistan.
No journalist should expect them to discuss reports, claiming the deployment of tactical weapons on their soil, therefore. Yet, the eyes trained to get solid hints to "real stories" by reading the fine print of the news and articles printed in the Soviet press during the cold war days, may get a sort of confirmation to reports that Osama-specific tactical weapons had been deployed in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan through analyzing a "comment."
Talking to Russian Public TV on October 2, Rustam Jumaev, the press secretary of the Uzbek president denied "rumours" that the US Special Forces had landed in Uzbekistan. But 'denying' the said 'rumors' he also revealed: "The men mistaken for special forces were, in fact, US customs officers who were training Uzbek border troops in ways to prevent the smuggling of nuclear weapons and radioactive material." He did not bother to tell as to when, how and from where "the US custom officers entered Uzbekistan." The CIA-financed Radio Free Europe also made fun of the 'denials,' the Tajik government keeps issuing regarding the presence of the US troops on its soil.
"In the process (of denying the troop deployment stories)," said one of its commentators in the weekly report on Central Asia Sunday, "unwittingly highlighted (are) the questions whether the (military) airport in (Dushanbe), the largest in the country and host to a squadron of Russian jets, was actually under Tajik control or joint Russian-Tajik jurisdiction, as some Russian sources have indicated."
The Radio went on: "Last week Russian military officials in Tajikistan made no bones about the fact that they were firmly in control of the republic's security, with announcements that 1,500 Russian soldiers were being transferred from the Volga-Urals Military District to serve with the 201st Motor-Rifle Division based in Tajikistan, and that the Afghan-Tajik border was being reinforced."
Altogether 7,000 servicemen of the 201st Division have been present in Tajikistan for many months. Coming of another 1,500 to this country almost confirms The News story of Thursday that Pushtu and Dari speaking troops of the same division had been detached to enter Afghanistan and crawl up to the Pamir mountains, for reaching the suspected hideouts of Osama.