The North Korean authorities have ordered the entire army into “combat mode,” a move interpreted as an attempt to tighten security and consolidate sentiment in response to Foal Eagle (FE), the annual military drills conducted by South Korea and the US, which began in early March.
A source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK that following the order from Kim Jong Un, every last soldier– even if away on business, on leave, off-base for training, or even those with a recent death in the family–were ordered back to their units. The authorities have ordered the military police in each region to summon all soldiers back to their bases.
“The 1st Corps was ordered to fully prepare for combat. In particular, they were instructed to move mechanized combat equipment to strategic areas, including artillery pieces and tanks that were housed underground,” he said.
The 1st Corps is responsible for the defense of areas considered vulnerable due to their proximity to South Korea, including areas of North Hwanghae Province, South Hwanghae Province, and Kangwon Province. According to the source, combat equipment including cannons (except marine artillery shells), tanks, and armored vehicles, are normally stored in mines and are moved to strategic operational positions whenever combat readiness orders are handed down.
“The Civilian Affairs Administrative Police Unit comprises soldiers located in the Panmunjom area and along the border with South Korea. With the new orders, they must stay in battle uniform at all times, and all cadres below the rank of the commander are prohibited from commuting from their homes. The atmosphere is very tense as the soldiers on watch-keeping duty are replaced by officers of higher ranks,” a source in North Pyongan Province said.
“The authorities have told the troops to be ‘impervious to enemy provocation’ and the forward units are currently under a system of monitoring that requires immediate reporting. The Local Reserve Forces and the Worker-Peasant Red Guard (the largest civil defense force in North Korea) have been ordered to create fake base camps and cannons and deploy them in order to confuse satellite surveillance and complicate air strikes.”
However, the combat readiness orders in response to the combined military drills by South Korea and the US each year are becoming less potent over time. Both sources reported that many soldiers are loathe to change their routine. During such times, some soldiers find ways to desert their posts, either from weariness of what they see as futile efforts or in search of food.