This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Ahead of annual winter military drills in North Korea, authorities are sending inspectors to check each unit’s combat readiness while also forcing the public to cover each unit’s supply shortages.
“Inspectors were dispatched to every military unit in accordance with orders from the Supreme Leader [Kim Jong Un] concerning the upcoming winter drills in the new year,” a source affiliated with North Korea’s military told RFA’s Korean Service Wednesday.
“The inspection period started Nov, 1 and ends on Dec, 20. The whole military will be inspected,” the source said. The drill starts on Dec. 1.
“They want to test the readiness of the troops ahead of the new year winter drill, and they want to take countermeasures [for any shortcomings],” said the source.
Who watches the watchers?
“During the inspection period, the inspectors themselves are being evaluated as well. [Their evaluation] depends on how well they can improve each unit’s combat readiness, so everyone is on high alert,” the source said.
The source said that even though the inspectors and the units themselves will do everything they can to improve, everyone knows that the biggest weakness for every unit is a lack of supplies.
“In particular, the lack of food and firewood is being raised as a big issue, but since that’s a problem the inspectors can’t improve, nobody — not even the military officials — knows what they should do about it,” the source said.
Another military source from Ryanggang province meanwhile said that units in that area would struggle to pass inspections because much of their manpower has been mobilized to work on the Samjiyon tourist zone, currently under construction.
The zone is a major state-sponsored project that is a big part of Kim Jong Un’s ambitious plan to revitalize North Korea.
“The entire military must begin the new year winter drills on December 1, but many of the soldiers are dispatched to Samjiyon or other construction projects, so they won’t have enough personnel for the drill,” the second source said.
“The military officials are agonizing over what they should do about it because they can’t simply take back soldiers who are working on the [more important] national construction project,” the second source added.
Like the first source, the second source said that units in Ryanggang are going to struggle with cold weather and a lack of supplies.
“We need to deal with maintenance and heating of the barracks before the cold weather hits,” said the second source,
“But the biggest problem is that it’s getting cold earlier than last year and our supplies of heating oil and food are not enough,” the second source said, adding that the lack of supplies are causing inspectors and officials alike to complain about the orders their superiors have handed down.
“The higher-ups are urging military officials and inspectors to report every day, regardless of the circumstances, so they are all complaining about it,” the source said.
To deal with supply issues, authorities are requiring that civilians pitch in to provide resources the military needs during the drills.
A third source, from North Hamgyong province, told RFA on Tuesday that authorities were holding lecture sessions in every organization to encourage the people to donate supplies.
“The title [of the lecture was] ‘We all should actively be part of the aid project for the military,” said the third source, adding, “The speaker at the lecture emphasized that supporting the military is the greatest act of patriotism.”
But the third source said the people were not amused.
“Despite the speaker’s passionate speech, most residents reacted sarcastically, saying they are trying to stick the military’s shortages on us again because the winter training period is coming up,” said the third source.
“Residents don’t really care when the authorities hem and haw about patriotism or protecting the country. They just hope that the amount of supplies they will be required to donate will be small,” the third source said.
Typically, the citizens are asked to supply things that the soldiers can eat, wear, or otherwise use. The most basic donation is food like corn or rice, but sometimes pigs, goats, dogs, and rabbits are forcibly donated. Alternatively the people can provide cash donations.
Companies and citizens organizations will try to at least make the minimum recommended donation because there is competition among them and their willingness to support the military is reviewed publicly.