North Korea’s Massive – and Lethal – Special Forces Larger than Entire US Marine Corps

U.S. Marines with Combat Logistics Detachment 1, Combat Logistics Battalion 13, 1st Marine Logistics Group, practice "combat gliding" during Integrated Training Exercise 2-15 at Camp Wilson on Twentynine Palms, California, Jan. 31, 2015. ITX 2-15, executed by Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force 4, is conducted to enhance the integration and warfighting capability of all elements of the Marine Air Ground Task Force. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Kathryn Howard/Released)

While most focus on the North’s nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, thousands of artillery pieces, and over a million fanatical troops are the core of the North Korean threat, Pyongyang has a less discussed, but equally potent threat – massive Special Operations Forces (SOF).

The United States Marine Corps – one of the world’s most lethal military forces numbers about 180,000, but North Korea’s SOF alone number 200,000 – the world’s largest.  Not much is known about those troops, but they are believed to be well trained and highly motivated.

Leader Kim Jong Un would likely deploy them before or early in a war to disrupt US and South Korean military operations.

The US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) recently stated that “North Korean SOF are highly trained and well-equipped in comparison to other units, and, if successfully infiltrated into the South, would be capable of disruptive attacks in the rear area.”

North Korean commandos would also likely attempt a strike against South Korea’s leaders and command-and-control centers, seeking to decapitate South Korean leadership and sow confusion in the initial hours of the conflict. And they have capabilities and the numbers to do a lot of damage.

Business Insider notes Pyongyang’s more than 200,000 special operators are:

…organized in standard formations, such as brigades, regiments, battalions, and in even smaller, more specialized outfits.

The typical special-operations unit has between 3,000 and 5,000 commandos and falls under the different branches of the North Korean military and under Pyongyang’s intelligence service, the Reconnaissance General Bureau.

North Korean special-operations units can be divided by specialty.

Reconnaissance units specialize in collecting intelligence and passing it back to headquarters. Airborne units can infiltrate by air and seize and hold targets like airfields or bridges. Maritime units can infiltrate from submarines or ships and conduct littoral raids. Commando units can conduct direct-action operations, such as raids.

North Korean troops may appear very well-equipped during parades in Pyongyang, but those weapons and gear aren’t necessarily distributed to the rest of the force. Because of their special mission, North Korean special-operations units receive the best equipment and training.

Business Insider adds: “That gear is rudimentary compared to other countries’ special-operations units, but even with technological or logistical shortcomings compared to US and South Korean special-operations units, North Korean commandos are a dedicated and dangerous foe.”

They “would be a fierce enemy” if a war broke out, said a former U.S. Green Beret who served in South Korea. And this is a threat worth preparing for. ADN

Paul Crespo is the Managing Editor of American Defense News. A defense and national security expert, he served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. Paul holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. He is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and President of the Center for American Defense Studies, a national security think tank.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

People, Places & Things