Kim Jong-un discusses changes to front-line units
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and high-ranking officials discussed changes to front-line military units during a major party meeting, state media reported Thursday amid speculation the regime could deploy tactical guided weapons and short-range ballistic missiles to frontline artillery units.
According to an English-language report by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Kim presided over a meeting of the third enlarged session of the eighth Central Military Commission of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party on Wednesday, where “the work of additionally confirming the operation duties of the frontline units of the Korean People's Army (KPA) and modifying the operation plans” was discussed.
Kim stressed the importance of adopting "important military measures to enhance the operational capabilities of the frontline units,” the KCNA reported without further details.
Other items discussed at the meeting chaired by Kim included “issues related to reorganization of key military organizational formations,” the KCNA reported.
While the KCNA report was vague, photographs of the meeting suggested the military reorganization under discussion was directed against South Korea.
Photos made public by the KCNA showed Ri Thae-sop, chief of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army, delivering a presentation to Kim and others in attendance using a map of the eastern coast of the Korean Peninsula.
The map was blurred in the photograph, but South Korean officials said it made no secret of the target of the North’s intended changes.
“We find it highly likely that North Korea will escalate its military threat against us, given that the map released [by KCNA] displayed South Korea's eastern region on the Korean Peninsula,” an official from Seoul’s Unification Ministry said on the condition of anonymity.
The official suggested that the North’s decision to disclose changes to border units arrayed against South Korea could be a signal of more serious provocations to come.
South Korea’s military said Thursday it is tracking the changes under discussion in Pyongyang.
“We are keeping close tabs on relevant (North Korean) movements,” Col. Kim Jun-rak, spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a regular press briefing.
Talk of changes to frontline units in North Korea come two months after the regime said it tested what it called “a tactical guided weapon” that could apparently boost its nuclear warfare capabilities.
The April test was overseen by leader Kim Jong-un and other high-ranking military officials.
At the time, the KCNA said the weapon has “great significance in drastically improving the firepower of the frontline long-range artillery units, enhancing the efficiency in the operation of tactical nukes of and diversification of their firepower missions.”
U.S. and South Korean intelligence officials have warned in recent months that the regime is also ready to conduct its seventh nuclear test.
Park Jin, Seoul’s foreign minister, noted earlier this month that the North appeared to have completed all preparations for a nuclear test and that only a “political decision remained” before Pyongyang conducts a test.
The country conducted its sixth nuclear test in September 2017, before announcing a moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile testing in 2018, which now appears effectively scrapped.
Pyongyang has conducted 18 missile tests so far this year, and South Korean and U.S. intelligence officials have warned in recent months that the regime is prepared for a nuclear weapons test.
One goal that the regime has in mind with a nuclear test is to check its progress in miniaturizing a tactical nuclear warhead to fit atop a ballistic missile, a task that was included as a key item on the agenda of the North’s most recent five-year national plan in January 2021.
BY MICHAEL LEE [email@example.com]