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Air Force general in charge of nuclear weapons removed for lack of trust: defense officials

Maj. Gen. Michael J. Carey U.S. Air Force

A top general in charge of the U.S. Air Force's arsenal of nuclear ballistic missiles has been relieved of his command due to loss of trust, defense officials told NBC News.

Air Force officials said Maj. Gen. Michael Carey was fired for “personal misbehavior” while on temporary duty at an unspecified location outside his usual command. The officials would not describe the behavior, other than to say that it did not involve any sexual improprieties, drug use, gambling, or criminal conduct.

Carey oversaw the 20th Air Force, with a total of 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles at three locations across the U.S.

An Air Force statement said that Carey was relieved from command “due to a loss of trust and confidence in his leadership and judgment.” The statement goes on to say that “the allegations are not related to operational readiness, inspection results, nor do they involve sexual misconduct.”

Gen. James Kowalski, the commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command, made the decision to relieve Carey of his command. The firing came after a months-long investigation by the Air Force Inspector General into reports of personal misbehavior by the major general. A separate Air Force investigation into Carey continues, and will determine whether he should be disciplined or forced out of the service.

“20th AF continues to execute its mission of around-the-clock nuclear deterrence in a safe, secure and effective manner,” Kowalski said in an Air Force statement. “It’s unfortunate that I’ve had to relieve an otherwise distinctive career spanning 35 years of commendable service.”

Regarding Carey’s position in charge of nuclear weaponry, a senior Air Force official said: “It’s a job that demands great trust and responsibility, and personal behavior is vital to that.”

Carey enlisted in the Air Force in 1978, according to his official biography, and attended the University of Central Florida, where he graduated in 1982 with a degree in history.

He was promoted to the rank of major general in Nov. 2011, according to his Air Force bio, and served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

It is the second firing of a top-ranking commander with authority over nuclear weapons in the past week. Navy Vice Adm. Tim Giardina was demoted to the from the three-star rank to two and relieved of his post as second in command of U.S. nuclear forces at U.S. Strategic Command amidst a gambling investigation, the Associated Press reported.

The United States has an estimated 2,150 deployed nuclear warheads, according to a recent estimate published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Intercontinental ballistic missiles are capable of carrying multiple warheads.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.