South Korea hit squad to target Kim Jong-un criticised as inept

Analysts say inadequate equipment means unit would be wiped out if deployed in North

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un says, during a televised speech, that the US will never be able to start a war against his country, now that they have developed the capability to hit all of the US mainland with nuclear weapons. Video: Reuters


A recently formed South Korean hit squad tasked with eliminating Kim Jong-un in the event of war has been slammed by military analysts as inadequate and likely to be “wiped out” if deployed in the North.

As Pyongyang ratcheted up its missile tests in 2017, Seoul responded by fast-tracking the creation of a 2,000-strong team of commandos with a mission to eliminate North Korea’s supreme leader and his top aides upon the outbreak of hostilities.

South Korean intelligence officials say the move has stoked Mr Kim’s fears that he will meet his early demise in a “decapitation strike”. They told lawmakers that the North Korean leader began rotating his vehicles and minimising outdoor activities in a bid to avoid detection.

But military analysts in Seoul have cast doubt on the much-vaunted unit, saying it lacks proper weaponry, equipment and support and would be incapable of fulfilling its mission.

“The Korean army doesn’t have any low-altitude infiltration transportation like the US has, although it plans to remodel four ordinary transport planes by the end of the next year,” said Lee Il-woo, secretary-general of the Korea Defence Network, a group of Seoul-based experts.

“But they can still only accommodate about 300 troops, so even if the unit goes to Pyongyang, it is highly likely it will be wiped out by the heavily armed units of North Korea’s guard command.”

Mr Lee added that the unit was being equipped with standard weaponry, such as K2 assault rifles – a contrast with the US where Seal teams are given state-of-the-art equipment. “The unit falls short of being equipped with the necessary equipment to carry out actual operations.”

The defence ministry declined to comment on the criticism, but said it was “working to establish combat capability at the earliest time”.

‘Special mission brigade’

The team – officially called the “special mission brigade” – is also likely to suffer from South Korea’s lack of reconnaissance assets, such as satellites and advanced drones.

Shin Jong-woo, a researcher at the Korea Defence and Security Forum, said: “South Korea falls far short of being properly equipped with reconnaissance assets . . . we are heavily dependent on the US.”

Seoul said in December that it would create a special drone unit that could swarm North Korea in the event of a conflict. The drones would be used primarily for reconnaissance of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile sites, but could also be used for offensive purposes.

“Utmost priority should be placed on the acquisition of surveillance and reconnaissance assets, so we can get information about the movements of North Korea’s leaders in real time,” said Jang Young-geun, an adviser to the defence ministry.

South Korea does not operate a dedicated military satellite and often relies on the US, a key ally, to provide information.

In addition to military adversaries, the South Korea team would also face difficulties navigating North Korea’s rugged terrain and multitude of hidden bunkers and tunnels.

“We don’t have human intelligence inside North Korea, so it will be difficult to penetrate the country, particularly Kim’s palaces,” said Bong Young-shik, a North Korea expert at Yonsei University.

“Finding Kim Jong-un would be very difficult,” said Mr Jang. “Even with the US’s capabilities, it still took them 11 years to find Osama bin Laden.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018