Two US Air Force officers sacked over atomic errors

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Washington, June 6 : U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has given marching orders to two senior Department of Air Force officers - one a civilian and the other a high-ranking general for the mishandling of nuclear weapons and for failing to correct systemic problems in the Air Force. Air Force Secretary, Michael W. Wynne, and the service's chief of staff, Gen. T. Michael Moseley, were forced to resign after the inquiry found that the latest in a series of incidents reflected "a pattern of poor performance" in securing sensitive military components, the New York Times quoted Gates, as saying at a Pentagon briefing.

So deep and serious are the problems, Gates said, that he has asked a former Defense and Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger, to head "a senior-level task force" to recommend improvements in the safekeeping of nuclear weapons, delivery vehicles and other sensitive items.

In office 18 months, Mr. Gates has made accountability a central theme, firing senior Army officials after disclosures of shoddy conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and pushing into retirement other generals closely associated with a faltering strategy in Iraq.

But never before has a defense secretary simultaneously ousted a service secretary and a service chief.

Gates said he had taken the action because the investigation identified "a lack of effective Air Force leadership oversight" and found that "the Air Force has not been sufficiently critical of its past performance."

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