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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

We see shades of the ROK COIN in Korea and Vietnam in the ROK approach to peacekeeping in Iraq. In Iraq, ROK Soldiers use many of the same tactics, techniques and procedures in northern Iraq as they had in Vietnam and in Korea. Security is paramount. Civic action projects and “New Village Initiative” are planned and executed with the participation of local villagers. (31) “Green Angel Operations” mimic the “Medical/ Enlightenment Teams” of the Chiri and Taebaek Mountains in Korea. And true to Shaun Darragh’s memories of White Horse Division CMO in Vietnam, the inevitable Tae Kwon Do classes are taught to Iraqi school children.

ROK Soldiers conduct pre-combat inspections prior to mounting a search in Iraq. (Photo courtesy of ROK JCS)

ROK peacekeepers have not had to fight insurgents in Iraq, though they have looked for them. ROK Soldiers in Iraq have trained Iraqi Security Forces just as their forefathers trained the HDRF in Korea in 1968. And just as many of their Tiger (Capital Division), White Horse (9th Division) and Blue Dragon (Marines) forefathers asked to fight in Vietnam, Zaytun Division Soldiers are all volunteers.


Arguable success in two insurgencies, however, does not guarantee success in a future contest north of the DMZ. Although representatives of the two Koreas agreed in 1991 to “Mutual recognition of each other’s systems and an end to interference, vilification, and subversion of each other” and “Nonuse of force against each other,” (32) some have argued that North Korea will collapse under the weight of its failed economic policies and starving population, and that the ROK will have to respond to the humanitarian crisis to its north and potentially fill the power vacuum. Others have theorized that Kim Jong Il may instigate a war to save his regime, and in the event of failure, will resort to insurgency operations to wear down ROK and allied forces and the will of their societies to sustain the fight. In short, his regime wins by not losing, while the ROK will lose (not achieve an enduring peace) by not winning. (33)

Fighting an insurgency in North Korea would be a daunting challenge. At the height of its operations in Vietnam, the ROK had over 44,000 Soldiers and Marines fighting in an area of operations that encompassed just under thirty thousand square kilometers. While all of North Korea is only slightly four times as large as the area of operations controlled by ROK troops in Vietnam, it is laced with thousands of extensive underground bunkers that will hide hundreds of thousands of hard core veterans, the product of sixty years of intense indoctrination, and possessing skills suitable for guerilla warfare. (34) Facing this challenge will be a well trained ROK Army, but one whose Soldiers may well have less in common with their cousins to the north than their fathers had with the peasants of Vietnam.

For the ROK to win such a fight (and a lasting peace), it will need the support of all its allies. Fighting under the scrutiny of twenty-four-hour news networks and the blogosphere, the ROK will again need as many carrots as sticks. To its credit, the ROK is well versed in the use of incentives. To its comfort, in 2006 alone, over 1,600 North Koreans risked their very lives to leave Kim Jung Il’s worker’s paradise and seek refuge in the ROK. This is indicative of a population that is not as thoroughly indoctrinated as previously thought and a population that may well respond to “kindness and warmness” and effective civic action programs.

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