Pentagon fumbles N. Korea spying allegations
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The Pentagon struggled Thursday to deal with a controversy over a U.S. general's remarks that he has sent commandos into North Korea on a spying mission.
The dispute flared after a Florida conference last week at which Brig. Gen. Neil Tolley, commander of U.S. special forces in South Korea, reportedly said North Korea has built many military-purpose tunnels difficult to detect by satellite.
The Diplomat, a magazine on Asia-Pacific affairs, quoted Tolley as saying that South Korean and American special forces have been parachuting into North Korea to gather intelligence about such underground facilities.
If true, it would be in breach of the armistice that ended hostilities in the 1950-53 Korean War. Around 28,500 U.S. troops remain stationed in Korea.
The conference initially drew little attention from Korean and major U.S. media in Washington.
U.S. Forces Korea and the Department of Defense staunchly denied the report, saying the general's remarks were "contorted, distorted, and misreported."
They stopped short of releasing a full transcript of what Tolley said at the conference.
On his blog, David Axe, the reporter who wrote the first article on Tolley's comments, insisted he did not make them up.
Then a twist came with a statement by Tolley that he was partly to blame for the controversy.
"In my attempt to explain where technology could help us, I spoke in the present tense. I realize I wasn't clear in how I presented my remarks, leaving the opportunity for some in the audience to draw the wrong conclusions," he said. "To be clear, at no time have we sent special operations forces into North Korea."
On Thursday, the Pentagon conspicuously shifted criticism away from the reporter.
"The general's comments were taken out of context. And when something's taken out of context, that's not just -- that's not always just the fault of the journalist or the reporter. Sometimes it's the fault of the speaker," Navy Capt. John Kirby, a spokesman for the department, said at a press briefing.
He said Tolley was answering a hypothetical question about future possibilities.
"The bottom line is that there are no U.S. troops on the ground in North Korea," he said without clarifying whether the U.S. dispatched soldiers to the North in the past. "We do take our alliance with our Korean partners very, very seriously, as we do the security of the Korean Peninsula."
Regarding the possibility of another North Korean nuclear test, meanwhile, Kirby refused to discuss intelligence matters.
"I will just say that we continue to call on North Korea to meet their obligations to the international community and to the United Nations and to stop any and all provocative acts such as trying to pursue a nuclear weapons capability," he said.