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American Special Forces would be providing direct action and strategic reconnaissance support to the Korean Special Forces during the war, however, they would not be sending infiltrators into North Korea. Instead, they would be aiding and assisting their partner forces. The Americans perceived “the war as being initiated by the North. Our biggest challenge would be to go after the support units that were already forward deployed behind the first wave, which would be in tunnels and cave networks,” Cucullu described. “They had entire airfields carved into a mountain. Because they were using soft tires on their aircraft, they could land on gravel, which we couldn’t.” Opening the blast doors embedded in the side of the mountain, the North Koreans could fire up the engines on their MIG fighters and be in the air in seconds.
Military planners envisioned parachuting an entire Korean Special Forces brigade on top of that mountain in order to breach the underground facilities and capture it. The enemy was so well dug in that their base would even survive an atomic blast. The mission was understood to be a one-way trip for those involved. Most of the mission planning consisted of suicidal or near suicidal missions into North Korea or operations that were designed to defend the South and push the Kim regime back to the 38th parallel. Due to the Orwellian population-control measures present in North Korea, there was not much serious consideration given to whether friendly forces could deploy behind enemy lines and start a resistance movement.
As to whether the South Koreans tried to send agents into the North, Cucullu recalled an incident from when he attended the Korean staff college in 1977 as a major: “I think my first counterpart was lost there,” he said, referring to Captain Kim, with whom he had jumped for Operation Foal Eagle in 1970. After the exercise, he had corresponded with Kim for a long time before they lost touch. He still had some letters with Kim’s full name, rank, and service number. At the staff college, he asked some classmates to see if they could find his old friend, and he provided them with the information from the letter.
Three days later, the classmate encountered Cucullu in the hall and was stone-faced.
“This man was never in the Korean Army,” he told Cucullu.
“Of course he was!”
“This man was never in the Korean Army,” the classmate repeated.
The American officer was shocked by this response, recalling, “Then it struck me that this man was sent north and never came back. Mostly they sent singletons on intel/recon-type missions. I heard it alluded to from others that someone would talk about a friend of theirs put in civilian clothes and sent to Pyongyang as a businessman.” Cucullu sounded as though he was filled with regret as he reflected on his Korean Special Forces friend, saying, “I felt really bad about that. He was a terrific guy, far too talented to go on a stupid mission like that.”
Behind the scenes, trouble was brewing. President Park had ruled over South Korea as a dictator for 18 years, and he had used the KCIA as a tool for internal suppression against his own population in order to preserve his hold on power. By mid-1979, dissatisfaction was growing amongst the South Korean people, and public demonstrations against the president were attracting increasingly larger crowds. Inside the Blue House, palace politics were boiling over, as well as a bitter rivalry between KCIA Director Kim Jae Kyu and the president’s chief of staff, Cha Chi Chol, who competed for the attention of President Park.
Featured image: ROK Special Forces. Courtesy of Wikipedia