The unit was initially scheduled to be completed by 2019
It's a response to provocations by the North, Defense Ministry says
But it's a mistake, an analyst tells CNN
South Korea is ratcheting up its rhetoric against Pyongyang with a new threat: Come at us, and we’ll cut off the head of the snake.
The country is speeding up plans to set up what some call a “decapitation unit,” a brigade specifically tasked with targeting North Korea’s “wartime command,” including leader Kim Jong Un, according to a South Korea Defense Ministry official.
The unit will be activated in the “event of war,” the official said. Technically, South Korea and North Korea are still at war; they signed an armistice in 1953 but not a treaty.
The brigade was initially supposed to be ready in 2019, but the Defense Ministry now says it’ll be established “by this year.”
The move comes after a series of provocations by Pyongyang, including broadcasting images of Kim leading a combat drill targeting the South Korea’s presidential residence, the Blue House.
The South Korean Defense Ministry says it believes North Korea will stage more nuclear and missile tests in 2017, despite sanctions and pressure from the international community.
Kim promised as much in his New Year’s speech when he said that the country was close to testing an intercontinental ballistic missile.
It’s a worrying development for Seoul, though many analysts say the country’s missiles aren’t yet developed enough to deliver a nuclear warhead.
It has been rumored for some time that South Korea has so-called “decapitation units,” said Professor Choi Jong-kun from Yonsei University.
He said by making what would seem like a sensitive military tactic public, South Korea is sending a message to the North.
“It’s a signal game,” Choi said. But he also says it’s a mistake.
“We do not have the leadership yet,” he said. “We need to essentially maintain a defensive posture while essentially maintaining a low profile.”
South Korea’s in the midst of a leadership crisis after President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment.
Many in the South Korean left believe that the Defense Ministry – which is made up of more hawkish elements – shouldn’t be making important tactical decisions while the government is in turmoil.
“The pattern has been such that the Ministry of Defense tends to be more aggressive, they tend to be much more in control of South Korea’s national Korea’s policy,” he said.
“Often times, their decisions and announcements tend to be much overblown.”
K.J. Kwon reported from Seoul and Joshua Berlinger reported and wrote from Hong Kong. CNN’s Chieu Luu contributed to this report.