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U.S. Air Force fires general overseeing nuclear missiles

By Phil Stewart and David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The two-star general overseeing the U.S. arsenal of intercontinental missiles was fired on Friday for personal misbehavior, the Air Force said, adding the matter was not tied to the readiness or security of America's nuclear missiles.

The removal of Major General Michael Carey from his job as commander of the 20th Air Force was the latest in a string of recent high-profile firings of top U.S. generals.

Just two days ago, the deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees America's nuclear arsenal and space operations, was relieved of his post during an investigation into gambling issues. Last week, two Marine generals were fired for failing to properly defend a base in Afghanistan from a deadly 2012 Taliban attack.

The Air Force did not disclose what exactly Carey did wrong but provided a laundry list of things he wasn't being accused of, including sexual misconduct, adultery or drug use.

The investigation didn't relate to operational matters or readiness and there was no indication of criminal activity, although the investigation is not over, it said.

"There was misbehavior such that (his superior) decided that it didn't exemplify the trust and responsibilities required of a commander who was responsible for these nuclear forces," said Brigadier General Les Kodlick, an Air Force spokesman.

"The nuclear deterrence mission is one of great focus and discipline. Personal behavior is vital to that, especially from a commander."

Headquartered at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, the 20th Air Force is responsible for the nation's three intercontinental ballistic missile wings.

The Air Force's management of those missiles has come under intense scrutiny in recent months. Some 19 missile crew members at 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota were decertified after a poor showing in a March inspection.

In August, the 341st Missile wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana got a failing grade in its inspection, which cited "tactical-level errors during one of several exercises.

Still, the Air Force denied the inspections had anything to do with Carey's removal. Carey remains in the Air Force as the investigation continues but will be reassigned, Kodlick said.

"20th AF continues to execute its mission of around-the-clock nuclear deterrence in a safe, secure and effective manner," Lieutenant General James Kowalski, commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command, said in a statement.

"It's unfortunate that I've had to relieve an officer who's had an otherwise distinctive career spanning 35 years of commendable service."

The Air Force has sought to tighten controls over its nuclear weapons after a 2008 incident in which a B-52 bomber accidentally transported nuclear armed missiles across the country.

That led to the ouster of then-Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and General T. Michael Moseley, the top uniformed officer in the Air Force.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and David Alexander; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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