Seoul speeds up plan for hit squad to kill North’s Kim if war breaks out
South Korea is creating a hit squad with a mission to eliminate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his top command in the event of war, as it steps up its response to the growing threat from Pyongyang.
The formation of the military unit, originally due for 2019, has been brought forward to this year amid increasing bellicosity from the North, the defence ministry in Seoul confirmed to the Financial Times yesterday.
The hit squad, which could include as many as 2,000 troops, would be modelled on special forces operations in the US, according to state-run news agency Yonhap. The defence ministry said it would form part of a broader strengthening of the country’s military forces in the face of North Korean aggression.
The South would enhance its three-pillar conflict strategy, which involves pre-emptively striking North Korean nuclear facilities, shooting down ballistic missiles and launching retaliatory air strikes, the ministry said.
It also warned of “stronger, watertight” sanctions if Pyongyang proceeded with plans to test launch an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Last month Seoul applauded new UN-imposed restrictions on the North’s ability to export coal in an effort to hit the regime’s revenues.
But critics of the sanctions say they have had little impact on the North’s nuclear or missiles programmes. North Korea last year tested two nuclear devices and more than 20 missiles.
The election in the US of Donald Trump has also raised the stakes. After Mr Kim used a new year’s address to claim his country was nearly ready to launch a long-range ballistic missile, Mr Trump responded: “It won’t happen.”
Development of an ICBM could give Pyongyang the capability to target the US western seaboard, 10,000km away. Andrea Berger, deputy director of proliferation and nuclear policy at London’s Royal United Services Institute, said the purpose of the ICBM programme was “to be able to hold targets on the US mainland at risk”.
“Most believe Pyongyang would not use that capability unless the leadership thought its survival was imminently threatened. But the . . . consequences of miscalculation with North Korea are significant, and US allies in east Asia could think extended deterrence guarantees are weaker once the US homeland is at stake.”
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