S. Korea planning ‘decapitation’ unit
Seoul announces commando brigade in bid to rattle Kim.
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.