The statement reported by a Japanese magazine was denied Tuesday by U.S. and South Korean officials, The New York Times reported.
The Pentagon said in a release last week Brig. Gen. Neil H. Tolley was being replaced by Brig. Gen. Eric P. Wendt, deputy commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan. A U.S. military spokesman in Seoul said Tuesday Tolley's departure was a routine job rotation and had "nothing to do with" the media report.
The Diplomat magazine quoted Tolley as telling a defense industry conference in Tampa, Fla., U.S. and South Korean soldiers were dropped inside North Korean lines to gather intelligence on the North's network of underground military facilities.
"The entire tunnel infrastructure is hidden from our satellites," the magazine quoted Tolley as saying. "So we send [South Korean] soldiers and U.S. soldiers to the North to do special reconnaissance."
The Pentagon and the U.S. military in South Korea denied the report, saying in a statement the article took "great liberal license with his comments and [took] him completely out of context."
"Quotes have been made up and attributed to him," their statement said.
Tolley said, however, he thought he was accurately quoted but he should have been clearer, the Times said.
He said he was trying to provide "context for potential technical solutions" and "address how technology could help us in the future."
"In my attempt to explain where technology could help us, I spoke in the present tense," Tolley said in a statement. "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."
"[At] no time have we sent Special Operations forces into North Korea," he said.