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Special Operations: The North Korean Republican Guard
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January 5, 2011: North Korea has expanded its special operations troops to 200,000 troops over the last five years, an increase of 67 percent. This is apparently an effort to maintain a reliable force of troops as the armed forces, as a whole, declines because of lack of maintenance, new equipment and anything resembling morale. These 200,000 troops have turned into a North Korean "Republican Guard," an army within the army that is more reliable and loyal than the rest of the armed forces.

North Korea has long maintained elite commando forces, troops who were carefully selected, then paid, housed and fed better, and given access to better equipment. This alone insured a higher degree of loyalty. About 16 percent of the 1.2 million military personnel are now in these elite units. Most of them are similar to U.S. rangers, marines, paratroopers or special reconnaissance troops (U.S. Marine Force Recon and army LURPS). There are also some 30,000 snipers, organized into ten Sniper Brigades. This is a rather unique use of snipers, and given shortages of ammunition in the north, it's uncertain how well these troops, no matter how well selected, are at sniping. If you want to maintain your shooting skills, you have to fire thousands of rounds a year. The same applies for all elite troops, although a lot of the training just consists of physical conditioning and combat drills. For snipers, this consists practicing staying hidden. This can be accomplished, if you can keep the troops well fed and housed. This is no longer the case with many of the Special Forces, and morale is suffering.

At the apex of North Korean Special Forces there are over five thousand commando and U.S. Special Forces type troops. These are meant to get into South Korea and go after key targets and people. Again, the North Koreans have trained for half a century to do this, but have not been able to actually put these troops to the test much. There have been thousands of small operations in the south over the last half century. In the 1960s there was a low level war going on, as the North Koreans sent dozens of small teams south each year. Over a hundred American troops were killed or wounded, and many more South Korean soldiers and police. Yet, the North Koreans had little success.

While the top special operations units are still well cared for, more and more reports come out of the north about many less skilled special operations troops complaining about lower quality food and other benefits (like access to electricity year round, and heat during the Winter.) More of these troops are deserting and heading for China, where they can be more easily interviewed. Some have made it all the way to South Korea, where the extent of their numbers and preparations has pushed South Korean commanders to increase their security preparations, and train more troops to deal with all these commandos in war time.

While the North Korean special operations troops are grumbling, and not getting all the training resources (ammo and fuel) they need, they remain a highly motivated, and generally loyal, force. The government uses these troops to insure the loyalty of the other 84 percent of the military, and more and more elite troops are being used to assist the secret police in going after dissidents and corrupt officials. This is probably hurting the North Korean special operations forces more than anything else. The troops are getting a close look at the corruption and contradictions in North Korea. The troops generally lived in closed bases and don't get out much. But now that they do, they see a North Korea that is unpleasant, and not as swell as their commanders told them it was. It turns out those letters they were getting from home were not exaggerating how bad things were. And the trend has been down for so long, it's hard to assure the troops that there's any way up.

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Kyong-il    Citation needed   1/5/2011 9:25:55 AM
While the comments may be made by "experts" who have written extensively I question anything written on the DPRK. How much in-country time does the author have (and I do not mean the ROK)? I think much of what we see here is speculation. I do not disagree about elite forces in the DPRK (better fed, trained and equipment and political reliability) but "many of these troops are deserting" is really speculative. Check the number of refugees on the border.
Reliability of intelligence has been a chronic problem in the US intelligence community and as someone who travels annually to the DPRK I have to say that too many pundits are manufacturing information. Who is to contradict them? Learn the lessons of the Cold War. What were the capabilities of Soviet forces vs what DOD said they were?
Citations please.
 
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blkfoot    Soooo   1/5/2011 5:44:20 PM
Are these the Dudes, desguised as the dudes playing other dudes?
 
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Gerry       1/5/2011 9:19:35 PM

While the comments may be made by "experts" who have written extensively I question anything written on the DPRK. How much in-country time does the author have (and I do not mean the ROK)? I think much of what we see here is speculation. I do not disagree about elite forces in the DPRK (better fed, trained and equipment and political reliability) but "many of these troops are deserting" is really speculative. Check the number of refugees on the border.

Reliability of intelligence has been a chronic problem in the US intelligence community and as someone who travels annually to the DPRK I have to say that too many pundits are manufacturing information. Who is to contradict them? Learn the lessons of the Cold War. What were the capabilities of Soviet forces vs what DOD said they were?

Citations please.

Good point as the demise of North Korea has been predicted for many years now. However the situation in the north seems to have been getting noticibly worse since the devaluation of the currency. What seems to be desparate attempts by the north to gain attention and bargaining chips have failed miserably recently and overtures of friendship and reconcilliation have that same air of desparation. It would be entirely possible that the north may have reached the end of the line and is surrounding the fort with its best troops prior to an implosion. Look for quick agreements from the north on anything the world wants as long as food and aid is recieved first. The country is in its death throws.

 
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Photon       1/11/2011 2:38:39 PM

That which will make or break North Korea, including its politically more reliable special forces is generating income.  Even ranks and files of politically reliable troops can have second thoughts if they do not get paid.  (History is filled with troops, even previously reliable ones, causing havoc upon their employers once their employers fall too behind in payroll.)  Because of the events of 2010, it is going to be tough for North Korea to get much more out of South Korea, Japan, and the US.  Which means they will have to offer more concessions to China.  North Korea does have something China needs:  Natural resources.

 
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