Quotes indicating that U.S. special forces had made reconnaissance incursions into North Korea were fabricated, United States Forces Korea told a Voice of America journalist in a statement.
U.S. Army Gen. Neil Tolley, commander of U.S. special operations on the Korean peninsula, was quoted in The Diplomat magazine as saying “we send ROK [Republic of Korea] soldiers and U.S. soldiers to the North to do special reconnaissance.”
The Daily Caller reported on the apparent admission, which The Diplomat said came during a military industry conference in Tampa last week.
But VOA bureau chief Steve Herman, tweeting from Seoul, quoted a statement from United States Forces Korea saying “quotes have been made up & attributed to” Brigadier Gen. Neil Tolley.
“At no time have SOF [Special Operations] forces been sent to the north to conduct special reconnaissance,” Herman tweeted from the statement, which was not immediately available online.
In an article for The Diplomat titled “U.S. Forces Spy on North Korea,” reporter David Axe wrote Monday that Gen. Tolley had acknowledged that North Korea’s “entire tunnel infrastructure is hidden from our satellites,” making it necessary to send South Korean and U.S. soldiers into North Korea.
A Tampa Tribune writer who attended the same event reported other comments from Trolley, but nothing related to U.S. forces parachuting across the Demilitarized Zone and into the communist North.
But Axe’s version of events brought military spokesmen to attention. They issued a stern denial early on Tuesday morning, Seoul time.
Herman noted in another tweet that the need for close inspection of North Korean military installations was minimal. “With US recon sats & U2 overflights with sub-meter resolution,” he noted, “there’s not much of value SOF could eyeball” in person.
On his blog, Axe initially defended his reporting before equivocating.
“My notes have Tolley saying what I attribute to him in the story,” he wrote in an update.
Then after reading the U.S. military statement, he seemed to backtrack.
“I really hope someone has a transcript of this panel,” Axe wrote. “Are my handwritten notes inaccurate? Was the general vague in his comments? A third-party written record will help clear this up. Anyone?”