Policy & Strategy

General ‘misspoke’ on US special forces in North Korea

Brig. Gen. Neil Tolley, head of all American special operations forces in Korea, said his comments were intended to explain what potential actions U.S. forces could take on the peninsula. 

{mosads}While his comments were “accurately reported,” the one-star general said was adamant his comments did not mean that American special forces were on the ground in North Korea. 

“My intent was to provide some context for potential technical solutions to our unique requirements in Korea. The discussion was meant to address how technology could help us in the future,” Tolley said in a statement released Wednesday.  

“I realize I wasn’t clear in how I presented my remarks, leaving the opportunity for some in the audience to draw the wrong conclusions,” he added. “To be clear, at no time have we sent special operations forces into North Korea.”

Tolley told attendees during a special operations industry conference in May that elite U.S. troops have been dropped behind North Korean lines to pinpoint the specific locations of Pyongyang’s vast network of underground military bases. 

American commandos have identified hundreds of underground munitions facilities, along with thousands of subterranean artillery positions, linked by a complex network of underground tunnels that run up to the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea, Tolley reportedly said at the time. 

Reports of Tolley’s comments drew quick and sharp rebuke from command officials in Korea and Washington. 

The general’s statements concerning any clandestine U.S. operations inside North Korea were “taken completely out of context,” U.S. Forces Korea spokesman Col. Jonathan Withington said in a statement released early Tuesday morning.

Certain media outlets took “great liberal license” with Tolley’s comments to conclude that U.S. soldiers were being inserted behind North Korean lines, Withington said.

Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters on Tuesday that Tolley’s comments during the speech were “contorted, distorted and misreported,” adding that U.S. boots on the ground inside North Korea “is simply incorrect.” 


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