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North Korea orders wartime readiness during joint U.S.-South Korean military drills

North Korean soldiers (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File)
April 21, 2022

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

North Korea put its military in a wartime posture–mobilizing troops and stepping up army political indoctrination– in response to the semi-annual U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises that began this week, sources in the country told RFA.

The exercises are mostly computer simulations and involve cooperation between alliance command posts. But North Korea still views the exercises as a threat to its sovereignty, and its General Political Bureau has ordered the military to be ready for war.

“Artillery and other important mission units were instructed to maintain a high state of readiness and conduct frequent inspections on their combat equipment so they could enter battle immediately in the event of a crisis,” a military source in the northwestern province of North Pyongan told RFA’s Korean Service Tuesday on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“During the South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises, commanders must not leave the areas under their jurisdiction. Soldiers in the units are prepared to mobilize in a ready state, day or night,” he said.

But soldiers are exhausted, having just finished their grueling “winter training” sessions, where they toil as essentially free labor for the government on the premise of training, and coming off a major holiday full of political events, the source said.

“They are angered by the authorities’ orders to immediately mobilize at a time when they lack fuel and materials, and they say the situation is not realistic,” he said.

Authorities want soldiers not only to be ready on the physical battlefield, but also on the ideological battlefield, a military source in the northeastern province of North Hamgyong told RFA on condition of anonymity to speak freely.

“From the 19th, political departments in all units were urged to use ideological education classes for high-ranking officials this coming Saturday, and daily mental education hours for soldiers, so that they can propagandize the tension of the current political situation, and confirm their determination to defend our supreme leader,” he said, referring to the country’s leader Kim Jong Un.

“The General Political Bureau has ordered the Korean People’s Army newspapers, telecommunications, and the third broadcast within the military to put out intensive propaganda that shows the party and the military’s resolve, and our principled and ruthlessly super-hardline stance,” the second soruce said.

Third broadcast refers to government-controlled loudspeakers that transmit messages or instructions to everyone they can reach.

“The propaganda must emphasize the need to show the will of tens of millions of people to respond to the U.S.-South Korean war provocations with military action and not just words,” the second source said.

“In response to the orders … high-ranking officials and the soldiers below them complain that they are already tired from winter training and the various different political events concentrated in April. They wonder whether it makes sense to ‘arm soldiers with the 1950 spirit of defending the motherland…’  when what they want the most right now is adequate rest and enough food to eat,” he said.

The source said the propaganda is essentially meaningless.

“If you listen to the third broadcast inside the Korean People’s Army, you will only hear songs on the theme of defending our leader. All day long,” he said.

“These songs include ‘I will defend Gen. Kim Jong Un with my life,’ ‘Our weapons don’t forgive,’ and ‘Leader, just give us an order.’ I don’t understand why the authorities are obsessed with ideological education when the joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States happen every year.”

The joint exercises will run through Friday, then break for the weekend, resuming April 25 and ending April 28, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Hostilities in the 1950-1953 Korean War ended with an armistice agreement, but North and South Korea are technically still at war as no peace treaty has ever been signed.