S. Korea plan­ning ‘de­cap­i­ta­tion’ unit

Seoul an­nounces com­mando bri­gade in bid to rat­tle Kim.

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Choe Sang Hun SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — The last time South Korea is known to have plot­ted to as­sas­si­nate the North Korean lead­er­ship, noth­ing went as planned.

In the late 1960s, af­ter North Korean com­man­dos tried to ran­sack the pres­i­den- tial palace in Seoul, South Korea se­cretly trained mis­fits plucked from prison or off the streets to sneak into North Korea and slit the throat of its leader, Kim Il Sung. When the mis­sion was aborted, the men mu­tinied.

They killed their train­ers and fought their way into Seoul be­fore blow­ing them­selves up, an episode the govern­ment con­cealed for decades.

Now, as Kim’s grand­son, Kim Jong Un, ac­cel­er­ates his nu­clear mis­sile pro­gram, South Korea is again tar­get­ing the North’s lead- er­ship. A day af­ter North Korea con­ducted its sixth — and by far most pow­er­ful — nu­clear test this month, the South Korean de­fense min­is­ter, Song Young-moo, told law­mak­ers in Seoul that a spe­cial forces bri­gade he de­scribed as a “de­cap­i­ta­tion unit” would be es­tab­lished by the end of the year.

The unit, of­fi­cially known as the Spar­tan 3000, has not been as­signed to lit­er­ally de­cap­i­tate North Korean lead­ers.

But that is clearly the men- ac­ing mes­sage South Korea is try­ing to send.

Song said the unit could con­duct cross-bor­der raids with re­tooled he­li­copters and trans­port planes that could pen­e­trate North Korea at night.

Rarely does a govern­ment an­nounce a strat­egy to as­sas­si­nate a head of state, but South Korea wants to keep the North on edge and ner­vous about the con­se­quences of fur­ther de­vel­op­ing its nu­clear arse­nal. At the same time, the South’s in­creas­ingly ag­gres­sive pos­ture is meant to help push North Korea into ac­cept­ing Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in’s of­fer of talks.

“The best de­ter­rence we can have, next to hav­ing our own nukes, is to make Kim Jong Un fear for his life,” said Shin Won-sik, a three-star gen­eral who was the South Korean mil­i­tary’s top op­er­a­tional strate­gist be­fore he re­tired in 2015.

The mea­sures have also raised ques­tions about whether South Korea and the United States, the South’s most im­por­tant ally, are lay­ing the ground­work to kill or in­ca­pac­i­tate Kim and his top aides be­fore they can even or­der an at­tack.

While Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son has said the United States does not seek lead­er­ship change in North Korea, and the South Kore­ans say the new mil­i­tary tac­tics are meant to off­set the North Korean threat, the ca­pa­bil­i­ties they are build­ing could be used pre-emp­tively.

Last week, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump agreed to lift pay­load lim­its un­der a decades­old treaty, al­low­ing South Korea to build more pow­er­ful bal­lis­tic mis­siles. The United States helped South Korea build its first bal­lis­tic mis­siles in the 1970s, but in re­turn, im­posed re­stric­tions to try to pre­vent a re­gional arms race.

“We can now build bal­lis­tic mis­siles that can slam through deep un­der­ground bunkers where Kim Jong Un would be hid­ing,” Shin said.

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