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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

The ROK military added further refinements to the DMZ barrier system. In some sectors, the ROK divisions planted hybrid buckwheat in the land adjacent to the DMZ. The pale, almost white buckwheat made personnel movement far more noticeable than natural vegetation and allowed Soldiers to detect movements at better than three times the distance that they normally would. Additionally, President Park had twenty “reconstruction” villages build just south of the fence and populated them with hard-core, well-armed ROK veterans and their families. Built along the natural lines of drift, these would likely be the first “civilians” that communist infiltrators would meet on their trek south. Artillery fires were strictly controlled and seldom used to reinforce the DMZ barrier system. Killing or maiming friendly populace merited little in a guerrilla struggle. Keeping the allegiance of the ROK citizenry mattered much more than killing communist infiltrators. (14)


To defend its coasts, the ROK depended upon 200,000 unarmed coast watchers who reported to the National Police to help intercept seaborne infiltrators from the DPRK. These coast watchers patrolled the beach fronts. They rarely interrupted any landings, but often found traces of landings and alerted reaction forces, resulting in some kills and captures. (15) Later on, the ROK built chain link fences and guard towers up and down its coasts and raked the beaches at dusk to help identify footprints from infiltrators. (16)

The final task for defeating communist unconventional warfare was COIN within the ROK, including conditioning of the ROK population to reject overtures from infiltrators. In mid-February of 1968, Park approved creation of the Homeland Defense Reserve Force (HDRF), a popular militia. Before the end of that year, two million ROK citizens joined up. The HDRF grew to 60,000 local-defense units, built around a core of ROK veterans. While not initially well armed, they were a key source of human intelligence and provided additional manpower for regular ROK Army formations responding to communist infiltrations. (17)

Park reinforced the success of the HDRF with civic-action projects to woo rural South Korea into the government fold. The ROK Army reworked its old civic-action program. Previously, ROK soldiers built roads and bridges between villages and cities, but had little contact with Korean civilians. Park put troops to work directly in the villages to “promote ties between the military and civilian populace and intensify anti-communist spirit and support anti-espionage operations.” The ROK units dug wells and built classrooms, clinics, and cultural centers. These new public buildings often were used for anti-communist indoctrination in addition to their primary functions. (18)

The ROK Army supplemented these public works projects with “Medical/ Enlightenment Teams” in the Taebaek and Chiri Mountains, historically home to pro-communist sympathizers and guerillas. These highly trained ROK regulars and reservists, in close coordination with the Korean CIA and National Police, conducted medical screenings, inoculations, and minor surgery. While they inoculated the villagers against diseases, they also inoculated them against communist propaganda.

In the early 1970s, President Park reinforced his earlier civic-action programs with the Saemaul (New Village) Movement, a combination of self-help projects and government funding that modernized agriculture and improved the standard of living of rural Koreans. One of the principles of the New Village Movement was ‘Projects forced upon the villagers by the government are doomed to fail.’ Park began New Village by giving each participating village free cement. The following year, villages that used the cement wisely (about half), were given more free cement and a ton of steel rebar. The program was successful and later spread to cities. (19)

The Reconstruction Villages, new ROK Army Civic Action Program, and Medical-Enlightenment Teams were the first steps in securing the loyalty of the rural ROK citizenry. In his counterinsurgency campaign, Park was aided by several factors. First, land reform in the ROK had given the vast majority of ROK villagers ownership of the land they farmed. Kim Il Sung had done the same in North Korea, but then took all the land back when he decided to collectivize agriculture. ROK villagers had a stake in the system and a sample of communist duplicity towards “peasants and workers.” Secondly, ROK citizens had extremely negative impressions of their cousins to the north. These negative impressions predated the war and stereotyped North Koreans as rude and extremely violent. (In fact, the worst excesses of anti-communist repression by agents of the ROK government were carried out by anti-communists from north of Pyongyang, the “Northwest Youth Corps.”) (20) Third, in the 1960s, many ROK citizens still had vivid memories of communist atrocities. (21)

Unconventional warfare against the ROK failed and Kim Il Sung discontinued most of these operations by the late 1970s. Still, reports of infiltration continue to this day and there are unofficial estimates of communist “sleeper agents” in South Korea, though their status — active, dormant, turned, assimilated — is not reliably discussed in public. (22) The “Rich Nation, Strong Army”, civic action and Saemaul programs hardened the ROK citizens against communist propaganda and agitation and his HDRF, DMZ and seacoast defenses protected them from DPRK terrorism and allowed them to create the “Miracle on the Han” which is the modern ROK.

The ROK military conducted even broader COIN operations in Vietnam. In 1965, at the request of the Republic of Vietnam, a Korean construction support group, a Korean Marine Corps engineer company, several Korean Navy Landing Ships, Tank (LST) and Landing Ships, Medium (LSM), and a Korean Army security company deployed to Vietnam. Designated the Republic of Korea Military Assistance Group, Vietnam, this force was commonly known as the Dove Unit. The mission of the Dove Unit was to assist the Vietnamese restore war-damaged areas in furtherance of Vietnamese pacification efforts. The Dove Unit had very restrictive ROE. ROK Soldiers could not fire unless attacked and could not fire on or pursue the enemy outside their units’ areas of operations. (23)

Three of the over 325,000 Korean Soldiers and Marines that served in Vietnam (Department of Defense photo)

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