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Korea - 1950s

Special operations were conducted by the Far East Command (FECOM) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Korea during the Korean Conflict from 1950 to 1953. Each organization's effectiveness is determined by strategy, organization and operations. FECOM special operations were limited to partisan operations and psychological operations. The partisans consisted of anti-communist North Koreans organized and led by U.S. cadre beginning in January, 1951. Psychological operations were conducted continuously from July, 1950 by a separate staff element whose capabilities expanded dramatically during the course of the conflict. CIA operations within Korea consisted of intelligence gathering and special (or covert) activities controlled from headquarters in Japan.

Early in the Korean War, U.S. Army intelligence and the fledgling Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), successor to the OSS, needed to deploy intelligence teams and supplies through short- and long-range low-level penetration into North and South Korea. Initially, the Air Force provided this ad hoc special air support in multiple forms of air, land, and sea assets to support the United Nations Command operations. This involved the use of C-47 and C-119 transports, B-26 medium bombers, and Air Rescue Service crash boats. The Air Force then activated, equipped, and trained the 580th, 581st, and 582rd Air Resupply and Communication Wings specifically for unconventional warfare and counterinsurgency operations. These wings possessed tremendous capabilities using a variety of aircraft such as C-47, C-54, C-118, C-119 transports, B-29 bombers, SA-16 seaplanes, and H-19 helicopters. This revitalization of special operations included the ability to recover downed airmen and the full spectrum of covert air operations. However, while three wings were activated, only one saw action in Korea. After the war, all three were inactivated by late 1953.

Most of the guerrillas inserted across North Korean beaches were sent ashore in small teams, at night, to conduct limited reconnaissance missions, establish Escape and Evasion networks, or collect local intelligence, particularly on the railway system. According to CIA records however-still partially classified nearly a half-century later-the Agency decided in 1951 to add a bigger punch to its amphibious operations.

Commander in chief MacArthur's strong antipathy to a CIA presence in his theater of operations inevitably influenced a number of early-war decisions taken by the Agency's senior officials in Japan. And among the most important of these decisions was their commitment to field their own intelligence networks and guerrilla forces in North Korea, independent of similar efforts undertaken by MacArthur's Far East Command. An effort of this magnitude still required military support, however, and this reality frequently led to acrimonious fights when Agency representatives approached MacArthur's army-dominated headquarters to ask for such support. Though in most cases the requested support was eventually provided, this continuing acrimony led in turn to the Agency's preference for working whenever possible with the two uniformed services with which it enjoyed much smoother relations, the U.S. Air Force and Navy.

Naval special operations-through Task Force 90-supported the Agency with both UDT and APD elements, the former training, then leading ashore, guerrillas launched from the APD providing the necessary transport and firepower. Unlike the U.S. Army, which used the term "partisan" when referring to the Koreans it employed behind enemy lines, the CIA and the navy used the more traditional title "guerrilla." As might be expected, these bureaucratic differences in terminology were of little interest to the frogmen and APD crews who risked their lives to deliver and retrieve the Koreans along the always-dangerous North Korean coastline. What did interest the sailors, however, were the rugged Korean raiders themselves, their temporary shipmates for the seven to ten days the two groups lived together during a typical mission north of the thirty-eighth parallel.

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Page last modified: 22-11-2013 00:03:27 ZULU