The KTO achieves unity of effort through a complex web of command relationships comprised of three military elements with different but complementary missions, all commanded by a single CINC. The KTO is unique because the CINC in Korea is not a U.S. unified commander. As the commander in chief, United Nations Command (CINCUNC), he is the international commander responsible for maintaining the armistice that has existed in Korea since 1953. As the commander in chief, Republic of Korea (ROK)/U.S. Combined Forces Command (CINCCFC), he is a bi-national commander who supports CINCUNC by deterring North Korean aggression and, if necessary, defeating a North Korean attack. As the commander of U.S. Forces, Korea (COMUSKOREA), he is the subordinate unified commander of USPACOM responsible for providing U.S. forces to CINCUNC/CFC.
Because of the unique command relation-ships in Korea, SOCKOR is the only theater SOC that is not a subordinate unified command. Established in 1988 as a functional component command of U.S. Forces, Korea (USFK), SOCKOR is the principal organization responsible for the integration of U.S. SOF in Korea. Its primary mission focus is simple: be ready to employ U.S. SOF and win, should war resume in Korea.
During armistice, SOCKOR is responsible to CINCUNC/CFC and COMUSKOREA for SOF war planning, targeting, training, and participation in exercises and contingency operations on the Korean peninsula. SOCPAC supports SOCKOR in these responsibilities and routinely demonstrates its capability to reinforce SOCKOR rapidly during a crisis. During armistice, contingencies, and hostilities, SOCKOR exercises operational control of the U.S. Army Special Forces Detachment, Korea (SFD-K), which is the longest continuously serving SF unit in Asia. This organization is key to ensuring interoperability between ROK and U.S. SOF. The SF liaison NCOs of SFD-K live, train, and work with the ROK Special Forces Brigades on a daily basis, and thus play a critical role in the shaping of ROK and U.S. SOF operations to support CINCUNC/CFC.
SOF helps to shape the strategic environment by contributing directly to CINCUNC/CFC’s deterrence efforts through long-term deployments of SOF, such as AC-130 gunships, during critical periods. Through the integration of ROK and U.S. SOF in combined exercises, SOCKOR assists in expanding allied SOF capabilities to respond to the spectrum of threats as well as to ensure that there is post-reunification relevance for ROK SOF. Although not under the operational control of SOCKOR, U.S. CA and PSYOP forces have also assumed significantly greater roles in support of CINCUNC/CFC through the newly established Combined Civil Affairs Task Force (CCATF) and Combined Psychological Operations Task Force (CPOTF). The U.S. SOF elements apportioned to the CCATF and CPOTF are helping to shape the combined capabilities of CFC to execute CA and PSYOP missions across the full range of military operations.
To add to the challenge posed by a return to hostilities, there are a number of “wild card scenarios” that may occur, including North Korean terrorist actions, direct military confrontations, threats of the use of WMD, missile launches, and other forms of provocation to gain political and economic concessions. Other potential crises include massive refugee flow, natural or manmade disasters, transfer of or loss of control of WMD, the outbreak of civil war within North Korea, and collapse of the North Korean state. Therefore, as U.S. SOF train for war, they must also prepare for the uncertainty and complexity of post-hostilities and a wide range of potential crises requiring swift and skilled military intervention. This is a uniquely human endeavor and while advanced technology will have important applications in these scenarios, it is the human element which is key to success.
The cultural awareness and language abilities of SOF units will play a critical role in influencing the North Korean population and assisting allied forces in the transition to a reunified Korean Peninsula. ROK and U.S. SOF have an important role to play in supporting CINCUNC/CFC. It is highly likely that the entire range of special operations missions will be conducted in some form should hostilities resume or other crisis occur. Therefore, SOCKOR and U.S. SOF must remain focused on their ability to execute the full spectrum of special operations in Korea.