Pentagon denies report US special forces on ground in North Korea

U.S. military officials in South Korea are denying claims that American special forces have been carrying out covert special reconnaissance operations inside North Korea.

"No U.S. or [Republic of Korea] forces have parachuted into North Korea," U.S. Forces Korea spokesman Col. Jonathan Withington said in a statement released early Tuesday morning.

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The Diplomat, a Japan-based foreign affairs magazine, last Monday reported that U.S. special forces were on the ground in North Korea, gathering intelligence on the country's network of clandestine military bases near its border with the South.

Brig. Gen. Neil Tolley, head of all American special operations forces in South Korea, reportedly disclosed the existence of the North Korean operation during a special operations forces industry conference in Tampa, Fla., last Tuesday, according to The Diplomat.

But Tolley's comments concerning any clandestine U.S. operations inside North Korea last Tuesday were "taken completely out of context," Withington said.

Certain media outlets took "great liberal license" with Tolley's comments to conclude that U.S. soldiers were being inserted behind North Korean lines to gather intelligence on the country's network of underground military bases, according to Withington. 

Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters Tuesday that Tolley's comments during the speech were "contorted, distorted and misreported," adding that U.S. boots on the ground inside North Korea "is simply incorrect." 

The troops had been brought in because U.S. and Western intelligence had not been able to verify the existence of the tunnel network via satellites or other surveillance techniques, Tolley reportedly said at the time.

American commandos have identified hundreds of underground munitions facilities, along with thousands of subterranean artillery positions, linked by a complex network of underground tunnels that run up to the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea, Tolley claimed, according to media reports.

However, Withington dismissed those comments, saying American and South Korean forces have known about Pyongyang's tunnel complex for decades and their proximity to the demilitarized zone. 

"The use of tunnels in North Korea is well documented," he added. "Several of the known tunnels along the DMZ are visited by tourists every day."

This story was updated at 1:42pm to include comments from Pentagon spokesman George Little