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Posted on Dec 31, 2007 in Armchair Reading, Front Page Features

ROK Civil Military Operations In Support of Counterinsurgencies

By Armchair General

I am informed, General Paik, that you will command two picked divisions and will eradicate the guerrilla threat. This puts me at ease, certainly. But you must restore law and order wisely, with affection and consideration for our people. You must not inflict anymore suffering on them. Your operation will put the people at ease, certainly, and they will be able to get on with their lives.
– Vice President Kim, Song Su

It has been over fifty years since the Vice President of the Republic of Korea (ROK), wrote those words to General Paik, Sun Yup before he led the ROK 8th and Capital Divisions in Operation RAT KILLER. Prior to the 1953 cease-fire, Republic of Korea (ROK) forces conducted substantial civil military operations (CMO) on the Korean Peninsula that far exceed any we have seen to date in Iraq or Afghanistan in an effort to “put the Korean people at ease so that they would be able to get on with their lives.”


What we commonly refer to as the Korean Conflict mostly fits the category of “phase three conventional operations” or “high intensity conflict.” These are messy operations, but some how are more palatable to democratic sensibilities by virtue of their normally shorter duration and the perception of military necessity than are counterinsurgency operations (COIN) , that drag on for years, with over-zealous commanders occasionally burning the village in order to save it. The ROK experience with counterinsurgency operations predated the 25 June 1950 invasion by the communists and continued throughout the heavy fighting and past the Armistice signed between North Korea, the Peoples Republic of China and the United Nations and into the 1990s. (Carved in bronze at the Republic of Korea War Memorial is a blessing for 4,712 ROK military and police who died fighting communist infiltrators since 28 July, 1953, the day after the Armistice was signed. This is almost equal to the number of ROK Soldiers and Marines killed in over eight years of fighting in Vietnam.)

The ROK experience with COIN echoes our own in the Philippines and presages our own experience in Vietnam and Iraq. ROK leadership understood that successful COIN is every bit as much carrot as it is stick, and that the government must demonstrate that it can protect its populace and provide a minimal level of public services and economic opportunity in the face of sabotage and terrorism.

Paik had first hand experiences with the over-zealous and knew that their methods would never produce enduring results. To win in COIN, he had to engage the local populace in a positive manner as well as seek out and destroy guerrillas. Paik recounts in his memoirs having to rebuild a village one of his regiments had burned in an attempt to eliminate communist sympathizers in 1949 and wrote that “My very bones told me that we had to have popular support if Task Force Paik was to win the upcoming round with the guerrillas.” For Operation RAT KILLER, Paik issued strict rules of engagement (ROE) to his troops. They were not to camp near civilian populations. They could not commandeer any supplies from local civilians. No soldier or unit was to fire at any person who was not actively resisting.(2) Paik used psychological operations extensively during Operation RAT KILLER and almost ten million leaflets were dropped in support of the fight. (3) Strict ROE and aggressive use of leaflets was not enough, however. Paik’s next challenge was finding food and shelter for the orphans of over nine thousand guerrillas killed by ROK soldiers and policemen under his command during the operation. For this he relied heavily on the non-governmental organization community. (4)

Paik and other ROK officers received clear instructions from their civilian leadership regarding COIN and ROK military excesses were investigated. After the violent suppression of communist insurgents on Jeju Island, Judge Yang Won-il wrote in June 1948 that “the police have failed to win the hearts and minds of the people by treating them cruelly.” (5) In the wake of the Kochang Massacre in the fall of 1950 several ROK generals were removed from command. (6)

ROK forces would continue to conduct COIN south of the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) until the early 1970s. Although North Korea signed an armistice agreement in 1953, Kim Il Sung’s regime repeatedly infiltrated the ROK in an attempt to establish an insurgent presence in the ROK and if possible, kill President Park Chung Hee. This offensive accelerated in the late 1960s after the ROK sent two infantry divisions and a regiment of marines to fight in Vietnam. Kim wanted to strike while the ROK and its major ally, the US, were involved in Southeast Asia and not able to fully concentrate on defeating communist infiltrators, and before tens of thousands of ROK Soldiers and Marines returned from Vietnam with fresh combat experience. (7) As a result, the ROK was forced to fight insurgents at home and abroad.

Kim hoped to capitalize on discontent born of Park’s 1961 coup, social turmoil resulting from the rapid and sometimes painful transformation of the ROK economy into an industrial, export-based economy, and anger with Park’s decision to normalize relations with Japan. The economic transformation and recognition of Japan, a historic enemy of Korea, were part of Park’s “Rich Nation, Strong Army” nation-building strategy. Park pursued his strategy, and despite protests and riots, remained firmly in control. With so much power vested in Park, North Korean strategists believed that his death would trigger the uprising predicted by communist theory. (8) To this end, thirty-one North Korean infiltrators attempted to make their way to the “Blue House,” the official residence of ROK presidents, in an attempt to decapitate Park in January, 1968. (9) Park’s wife, Yook Young Soo, Park’s wife, would die in 1974 as a result of an unsuccessful attempt on Park by a North Korean agent. (10)

Preventing the insurgency that Kim Il Sung hoped to ignite would require the ROK to block effective infiltration across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and along the seacoasts and conduct COIN in the interior. This had to be accomplished without compromising the conventional defense of the ROK or ROK and US troop commitments in Vietnam. (11)

The 155 mile long chain link fence along the southern boundary of the DMZ was the most visible piece of the effort by the ROK-US Alliance to block overland infiltration by the DPRK. All land south of this new fence was cleared to a depth of 120 meters to ensure the fence could easily be observed and brought under aimed fire if necessary. Night vision scopes were fielded to Soldiers securing the DMZ and an array of sensors were added. Within the DMZ, ROK and US Soldiers increased the size and frequency of their patrols and reinforced their patrol bases. (12) As the United States Army’s historical summary for fiscal year 1969 noted:

In Korea, the U.S. commitment continued, with Eighth Army elements deployed along the demilitarized zone (DMZ) with Republic of Korea forces. . . . The I Corps defended the western avenues of approach into South Korea with the 2d Infantry Division deployed along the DMZ and the 7th Infantry Division in reserve. Hostile actions by North Korea along the DMZ and elsewhere in the Republic of Korea continued as a part of the long-term objective of reunifying Korea under Communist rule. A high proportion of provocations has been directed against the U.S. 2d Division, apparently part of a deliberate attempt to bolster North Korean claims that DMZ tension is attributable to the presence of U.S. forces. (13)

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