U.S. General in South Korea to Be Replaced After Spy Report

19 Jun

SEOUL, South Korea — The Pentagon announced the replacement of the commander of United States Special Operations in South Korea after a news media report quoted him as saying that American and South Korean troops had been parachuting into North Korea on spy mThe American military in Seoul said Brig. Gen. Neil H. Tolley’s departure from the job he held since October 2010 had nothing to do with the media report.

“The announcement by D.O.D. had been planned for some time and is a normal part of the general officer assignment process,” said a spokesman, Col. Jonathan Withington, “The change of command is still some months away, probably in the fall.”

The Korean Peninsula remains technically at war after fighting in the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce. Sending soldiers to the North would violate that cease-fire.

Pentagon officials have repeatedly said that there are no American military personnel on the ground in North Korea, and that the bulk of clandestine espionage in such hard-to-penetrate countries is generally carried out by an array of intelligence agencies.

Last week, The Diplomat, a Japan-based foreign affairs magazine, quoted General Tolley as telling a defense industry conference in Tampa, Fla., on May 22 that American and South Korean soldiers had been dropped behind North Korean lines to spy on the country’s vast network of underground military facilities.

“The entire tunnel infrastructure is hidden from our satellites,” he was quoted as saying. “So we send [Republic of Korea] soldiers and U.S. soldiers to the North to do special reconnaissance.” The United States Defense Department and the American military in South Korea denied the report. In a statement, they said it had “taken great liberal license with his comments and taken him completely out of context.”

“Quotes have been made up and attributed to him,” their statement said. In a later “clarification statement,” however, General Tolley said, “After further review of the reporting, I feel I was accurately quoted.”

“I should have been clearer,” he said, adding that he had been trying to “provide some context for potential technical solutions.”

“In my attempt to explain where technology could help us, I spoke in the present tense,” he said. He left “the opportunity for some in the audience to draw the wrong conclusions,” he added.

“At no time have we sent Special Operations forces into North Korea,” he said.

A Pentagon news release last Friday on general officer assignments stated that General Tolley was being replaced by Brig. Gen. Eric P. Wendt, deputy commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. issions, a statement denied by Washington and the government in Seoul.

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