Confirming reports that first floated several months ago, the Telegraph reports that South Korea is preparing to send special forces units into Pyongyang to conduct a “clinical strike” – searching for, and taking out Kim Jong-un and his closest advisers, in the event that North Korea should start a conventional war. The plan is among the revisions being made to South Korea’s latest strategy for dealing with an attack from the North.
Senior officials briefed South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, about revisions to the present defence of the nation on Monday, one day before North Korea launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan. Moon told the ministry to implement reforms to the military to meet the challenges that are increasingly being posed by North Korea. He added that the military should be ready to “quickly switch to an offensive posture in case North Korea stages a provocation that crosses the line or attacks the capital region”, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported. The prime minister also requested that the military “increase its mobility as well as its ability to carry out airborne and sea landings” and upgrade air defences.
Meanwhile, this is what a “hot” war attack by Pyongyang could look like from the South Korean perspective:
- In the event of a conventional conflict breaking out on the Korean Peninsula, North Korean artillery is expected to bombard the South’s defences along the Demilitarised Zone as well as shelling Seoul, which is less than 50 miles south of the border.
- Massed tanks and infantry units, assisted by saboteurs and agents already in the South, would attempt to swiftly seize Seoul and other key cities and facilities in South Korea before the United States and, potentially, other allied nations could land reinforcements.
In retaliation, under the existing US-South Korean plan for the defence of the South, known as OPLAN 5015, the two nations would aim to bring their overwhelming air and naval superiority to bear from bases in South Korea and Japan, as well as aircraft carriers in the western Pacific, although it would take weeks before large-scale reinforcements, including heavy tanks and other equipment, could be landed.
Furthermore,as the following naval map as of August 24 shows, in practical terms there is no carrier support around the Korea penninsula, so at least one aspect of the theoretical plan is currently impossible.
The new South Korean plan will identify more than 1,000 primary targets in North Korea to be eliminated by missiles and laser-guided munitions – including nuclear weapons and missile launch facilities – at the same time as the conventional attack is halted.
Additionally, the military has been tasked with training special forces units that could be infiltrated into Pyongyang in order to target key members of the regime, including Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, in order to bring about a more rapid conclusion to the fighting. While on paper such a “decapitation” move appears enticing, in reality the retaliation by the crippled NKorean regime against its southern neighbor, especially once it has lost its leader, would likely result in countless casualties and serve as the start of a gruesome regional, if not world, war.