January 06, 2011 08:50
South Korea's special forces have dwindled to the point that they are outnumbered 10:1 by their North Korean counterparts, a military source said Wednesday.
The source said the South is trying to find a way of countering the 200,000-strong North Korean special forces "because we found a serious imbalance in their strength in the process of re-evaluating threats from the North" following the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan in March and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in November.
The North has increased special forces by 80,000 to 200,000 over the past four years. By contrast, the number of the South Korean special forces stands at fewer than 20,000.
Under a troop reduction plan during the Roh Moo-hyun administration, one of the Army's three Special Assault Commandos that are responsible for responding to North Korea's infiltration from the rear has already been disbanded.
Each commando has about 1,200 troops. Over the past years, the North has focused on boosting light infantry units capable of infiltrating rapidly into the South through the frontline area. The South should have reinforced these special elite units to deal with the threat but has instead reduced them.
The Army's Special Warfare Command, whose main duties are to infiltrate into the rear area and destroy strategic targets in the North in an emergency, has about 10,000 troops.
South Korea's special forces units include the SACs, the SWC, the Navy UDT/SEAL, the Marine Corps' special search team, and the Air Force's combat controllers.
At least 1,000 SWC troops are always on standby for dispatch abroad and therefore exempt from basic duties.
Recognizing the seriousness of the matter, not only has the military been reviewing it, but a presidential defense committee has proposed boosting special forces. But no concrete plans have been presented yet.
"The times demand that we boost special forces to cope with new security threats such as terrorist threats, as well as threats from the North's special troops," a government source said. "Top military brass need to try harder to work out a response as soon as possible."
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