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B-52H Stratofortress takes off from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota (Air Force photo)

The stand-down of all 100,000 active-duty airmen of the Air Combat Command was completed yesterday in the aftermath of the unauthorized transfer of nuclear weapons from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.

The command-wide review of operations, safety procedures and checklists was ordered after the Aug. 30 incident in which six cruise missiles with nuclear warheads were loaded into a B-52H and flown from Minot to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana – without the bomber crew or ground command realizing nuclear weapons were on the aircraft.

Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Ed Thomas in the Pentagon told WND the Air Force considers the incident “unacceptable,” but he insisted the incident posed no danger to the U.S. public.

“The cruise missiles were mounted under the B-52′s wings,” Thomas confirmed, “but at no point in the flight were the weapons configured to be deployed.”

Top Air Force brass has been ordered to investigate the incident.

Gen. Ronald E. Keys, commander of the Air Combat Command, headquartered at Langley Air Force Base, Va., has assigned Maj. Gen. Douglas Raaberg to lead the command-directed investigation.

“This was a ferry flight,” Thomas explained, “and the weapons were being sent to Barksdale to be decommissioned.”

Throughout the incident, he said, the cruise missiles were always in the control of the U.S. Air Force.

“This was a procedural breakdown, and we are rolling up our sleeves to get to the bottom of what happened,” said Thomas.

In what the Air Force is now describing as a “weapons transfer incident,” Thomas explained the transfer had nothing to do with a possible redeployment of the weapons to the Middle East or to a higher priority nuclear weapons arsenal at Barksdale.

Thomas declined to answer whether the decommissioning of the nuclear-armed cruise missile was due to obsolescence or to a treaty obligation requiring the weapons to be decommissioned.

“We believe the incident was an isolated process breakdown,” Thomas said, “but the ACC Commander has taken the opportunity to emphasize procedures, discipline and attention to detail across the force.”

Characterizing the incident as “unacceptable,” Thomas emphasized “the Air Force now has a lot of work to do in the aftermath.”

As WND reported Thursday, the stand-down Friday was ordered by Keys.

Thomas told WND an investigative team was now on site at Minot conducting interviews.

“We expect to be out-briefing the media in the next several weeks,” Thomas concluded. “We consider the incident unacceptable and we are sparing no effort to find out exactly what happened and why.

“In the next few weeks, we plan to out-brief the media about the conclusions of our investigation,” Thomas stressed. “Until then, we are not going to engage in speculation about what happened or why, other than to say that the Air Force considers the incident an unacceptable breakdown in procedures.”

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