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Head of US Special Forces in Seoul Hands Over Command

USFK commander Gen. James Thurman is flanked by the incoming special operations commander, Brig. Gen. Eric Wendt (left) and Wendt's predecessor, Brig. Gen. Neil Tolley (right).(VOA/Steve Herman)
The head of U.S. special forces in South Korea has handed over command to his successor. The Brigadier General Neil Tolley generated controversy earlier this year when he made a comment construed as revealing American military personnel had clandestinely infiltrated North Korea.

The 8th Army marching band plays "The Ballad of the Green Beret" at the change of command ceremony Tuesday at the U.S. Army's Yongsan Garrison.

Brigadier General Eric Wendt is succeeding Brigadier General Neil Tolley as head of Special Operations Command Korea.

At the ceremony, the commander of U.S. Forces in the country, General James Thurman, praised the outgoing special operations leader for improving the capability of his troops.

“Brigadier General Tolley applied the lessons he learned as an army Green Beret in combat to improve our alliance's special operations capabilities, combined doctrine and the tactics, techniques and procedures to execute unconventional warfare ensuring that we are prepared to face the challenges posed by an evolving North Korea threat," said General Thurman.

No mention was made at the ceremony of the controversy that had cast the relatively obscure general into the headlines.

During a panel discussion at a conference in Florida this past May, Tolley said U.S. and South Korean troops had been parachuting into North Korea.

The Pentagon later acknowledged Tolley was quoted correctly but that he had misspoken. U.S. Defense Department officials categorically denied that there had been any such clandestine missions, which would have constituted a violation of the 1953 Korea armistice.

Within days after the controversy erupted over Tolley's remarks, the military announced he was being replaced. But officials say the transition had been in the works for some time and the general was not relieved of his command because of his inaccurate public comment.

The command is the smallest of the U.S. military's six theater special operations commands. But the military says if hostilities were to erupt on the Korean peninsula it would quickly grow to be the largest such command in the world. It is also the only one which is geared for combined operations with forces from an ally - in this case, South Korea.