S.Korea Must Strengthen Its Special Forces

      January 07, 2011 13:24

      North Korea has apparently bolstered its special forces by more than 80,000 over the last four years and the number now stands at 200,000. In contrast, South Korea now has a mere 20,000 special forces after they were downsized by around 1,200.

      Special forces are deployed behind enemy lines in times of war to engage in irregular activities, such as reconnaissance or sabotage. North Korea already has the largest number of special forces in the world. What is worse, it is increasing its main special forces unit -- the 11th Corps -- and is forming additional light infantry units.

      The North is capable of rapidly infiltrating tens of thousands of special forces into South Korea using hovercrafts that travel at 80-90 km/h at sea, underground tunnels on land, and AN-2 transport planes or helicopters in air. There have been media reports that the elite 29th Brigade conducted joint exercises last month with reconnaissance troops in Nampo simulating an invasion of the South.

      Nuclear weapons and special forces are two asymmetrical weapons in which North Korea has the edge over the South. It calculates that since it cannot defeat the South by conventional means, it must infiltrate special forces units into the South's major cities or mountains to engage in guerrilla operations. By fighting the South both at the frontlines and behind the lines, it believes it can win.

      Yet one of South Korea's three Special Assault Commandos, whose mission is to thwart such infiltrations, was disbanded as part of military reduction plan by the Roh Moo-hyun administration. The total number of South Korean special forces, including the Army's SAC and Special Warfare Command, the Navy UDT/SEAL and the Marine Corps' special search team and the Air Force's combat controllers, is less than half the size of North Korea's 11th Corps, which numbers around 40,000.

      The South must increase the number of special forces to deal with the imbalance and to thwart new security threats including terrorism. The units that are scattered among the different branches of the military must be brought under a central command to allow joint training and be equipped with different weapons according to their needs. And Seoul must make sure that these strengthened units are stationed in strategic locations to deal effectively with the threat from North Korea.

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