Much has been said about North Korea’s nuclear program and missile tests. An all-out war is hardly an option and the prospects for talks are bleak enough. There is a great possibility the problem will be solved by a commando raid. Decapitation strikes are delivered to eliminate an adversary’s leadership to disrupt or destroy its chain of command at the time of crisis about to break out. North and South Korea are still technically at war as they signed an armistice but not a treaty following the end of the Korean War in 1953.
South Korea is about to wrap up the US-backed plans to take out North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. It is forming a special military brigade this year tasked with removing North Korea's leadership as Seoul looks for ways to counter the Pyongyang’s emerging nuclear missile potential.
South Korea's defense minister Han Min-Koo said the special unit known as the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR) plan could launch its attack this year. The prime target is North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The operation would be under the command of South Korea but US special agents provide assistance.
The task force is expected to be 1,000-2,000 strong. It will be modelled on US special operations forces (SOF) to include the personnel from the South Korean Army, Navy and the Air Force. A top-ranked South Korean special warfare officer will lead the unit that will run under the joint special operations command between Seoul and Washington if a war breaks out.
The US SOF will take orders from the brigade commander.
This is not the first ‘decapitation unit» formed in South Korea. It was reported in March, 2016 that the South Korea’s Marine Corps formed a new unit tasked with carrying out special operations inside North Korea in the event of a contingency. In wartime, the main mission of the new regiment, codenamed «Spartan 3000», will be to destroy «key military facilities in the North’s rear during contingencies». The new unit will be able to operate within 24 hours at the regimental level.
During the annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military drills conducted in 2016, US-ROK forces for the first time carried out the OPLAN 5015, a classified war plan signed in 2015 that includes surgical strikes against North Korea’s nuclear, missile, and command and control facilities. It specifically called for «decapitation» raids by Special Forces to neutralize North Korea’s senior leadership.
The KMPR plan — which Seoul says is necessary in lieu of its own nuclear deterrent — was included in Defense Minister Han Min Koo's policy briefing to Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who became government caretaker upon President Park Geun-hye's impeachment over a corruption scandal. It was initially scheduled to be carried out in 2019, but the operation was moved up because North Korea speeded up its nuclear program.
According to Yonhap news agency, South Korea has already developed a plan to annihilate the North Korean capital of Pyongyang through intensive bombing in case the North shows any signs of a nuclear attack. The source said any campaign would employ surface-to-surface Hyunmoo 2A, 2B and Hyunmoo 3 ballistic missiles, which have ranges of 300 km (185 miles), 500 km (310 miles) and 1,000 km (620 miles), respectively, to pummel the North’s capital city.
The joint US-South Korea military exercises incorporate simulations of targeted, pre-emptive decapitation strikes aimed at assassinating the North Korean leader and toppling his government in the event of crisis.
According to Strategic Digest 2016, a publication by the USFK J5 Strategic Communication Division, «The ability to leverage a crisis response capability with operational Special Operations Forces or employ unique combined special operations capabilities provides US military and national leaders with strategic options to deter or defeat North Korean asymmetric threats». There will be more joint exercises in 2017.
This news hit the mainstream media headlines though there is nothing really new here. The US and South Korean SOF started to train together since they held a joint Teak Knife exercise in 2013. They have been regularly training together for the recent three years in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They also use the infrastructure of South Korea’s Army Special Warfare Command (ROK-SWC).
Actually, the elimination of just one man or a group of people representing the leadership of North Korea by SOF units only is hardly possible. In the case of North Korea, it cannot be just a «hit-and run» sting operation to eliminate a group of people. The SOF forces have to go back. Military infrastructure has to be attacked to prevent retaliatory actions. Other actions should be undertaken to ensure that the decapitation really causes havoc in the North Korean backyard.
It’s won’t be a cakewalk. Unlike, for instance, in Afghanistan, well-coordinated activities will have to be conducted in radio silence. North Korea is heavily deforested to complicate helicopter operations. The checkpoints located in the mountains can monitor large areas of land, impeding SOF movements.
Even if Kim and his close associates were killed there would be others to take over. And if the decapitation plan does not live up to the hopes, the US-backed South Korean military will have to confront the force comprising 950,000 soldiers, 5,500 tanks, 2,200 infantry fighting vehicles, 8,600 artillery pieces and 4,800 multiple rocket launcher systems. North Korea boasts 100,000 well-trained special-operations forces and one of the world’s largest biological and chemical arsenals. For comparison, the South Korean armed forces’ inventory includes about 2,500 tanks, 2,700 armoured fighting vehicles, 5,800 artillery pieces, 60 guided missile systems and 600 helicopters. These huge forces will clash with unpredictable consequences.
The leak of information on planned SOF operations may be done to intimidate North Korea. It may have the opposite effect, provoking Pyongyang into boosting its war capabilities and reinforcing the view that its nuclear potential is indispensable for its survival. There is no guarantee the plan will be a success. Remember the US bitter experience in Iran (Operation Eagle Claw in 1980) and the failure of the US hit-and run raid in Somalia – the Battle of Mogadishu or Day of the Rangers – in 1993.
There is another aspect of the problem that is important to mention. Suppose, the plans go through, and havoc reins in North Korea. One of the implications will be huge refugee flows going to South Korea, Japan, Russia and China. Besides, it would take trillions of dollars to put the economy in doldrums on track. Who’ll pay the bill? It all leads to the conclusion that the collapse of the North Korean chain of command could be more dangerous than the preservation of it.
Suppose the two Koreas reunify, the cost will be immense. South Korea will hardly be able to shoulder the burden.
That said, there is nothing better than the return to the six-party talks in an effort to find an arrangement and avoid the use of force. North Korea may try to implement gradual economic reforms if international aid is provided on the condition that a verification mechanism is in place to ensure the program is not used for military purposes. The international efforts have not been exhausted. The US, Russia and China have not really exhausted their diplomatic potential. They should join together in an effort to influence the events. This is the case when the force must be really used as a last resort.