North Korea's Military: Too Sick and Too Hungry to Train?

December 1, 2020 Topic: Public Health Region: Asia Blog Brand: Korea Watch Tags: North KoreaNorth Korean ArmyCoronavirusCOVID-19Famine

North Korea's Military: Too Sick and Too Hungry to Train?

About half of the soldiers in one unit are sick, missing, or underfed.

There’s signs of more trouble for North Korea this winter, as a new report states the country’s First Corps will be greatly diminished when annual training begins this month.

According to a new report by Daily NK, which cited a source in Gangwon Province, only about half of the usual personnel are available to take part in the training, which typically runs from December to March. The reason for this is that many of the usual individuals in the First Corps have been felled by “malnutrition, desertions, and quarantines related to COVID-19.”

Per the source, the North Korean military last month asked all units to report how many of the usual personnel would participate in the training, and the result was that as many as half of personnel would not be participating.

In one company, of 100 people, the report said, “six were hospitalized with contagious tuberculosis, pleuritis or hepatitis, six needed continuous treatment for malnutrition at division infirmaries, four had deserted, and nine were at corps-operated special quarantine facilities or local quarantine facilities run by military health officials due to unusual symptoms or respiratory distress.”

The source compared those numbers to those during what’s known in North Korea as “the Arduous March,” the famine that took place in the late 1990s. The report also said that orders have been given to discharge soldiers from hospitals, which some rejoining their units “straight out of sickbed.” And the government is also taking steps to catch deserters.

“As this is the first time during the training personnel requisition process that so many soldiers are missing, the Training Department is also embarrassed,” another source told Daily NK. “There is even concern about how the remaining soldiers are going to maintain their weapons and equipment due to insufficient formation strength.”

North Korea, while being less transparent than most governments, has been fighting coronavirus. Leader Kim Jong-un, after not appearing in public for several weeks, resurfaced in mid-November, at a Politburo meeting, where he and other government officials discussed efforts to fight coronavirus, as well as “anti-socialist” acts in North Korea’s education sector.

Kim, in that meeting, emphasized “the need to keep a high alert, build a tight blocking wall and further intensify the anti-epidemic work, being aware of the important responsibility for the security of the state and the well-being of the people,” according to Yonhap News Agency’s translation of the state media’s reporting.

The world is also closely watching how the incoming Biden Administration will handle North Korea policy, and whether its approach will be considerably different from that of the Trump Administration.

Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Image: Reuters.