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North Korea boosts tanks and special forces, says South Korea

South Korea says the buildup of special forces represents a shift in North Korea’s emphasis from all-out war to military provocation.

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Somehow North Korea has increased the number of Storm Tigers from 3,900 to 4,100 in just two years, according to the white paper, even though North Korea has no major motor vehicle plants capable of producing civilian vehicles in large quantities.

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Just as disturbing, according to the white paper, North Korea’s 170-millimeter cannon and 240-millimeter rocket launchers are within easy range of Seoul, 30 miles south of the line at the closest point. The threat of “massive surprise bombardment,” as the white paper puts it, is one reason why South Korean forces have held back on striking targets inside North Korea in reprisals for surprise attacks such as that on Yeonpyeong Island and also on the navy corvette the Cheonan, sunk by a torpedo fired by a midget submarine in March with a loss of 46 lives.

Starving soldiers

The elite status of North Korea’s special forces, however, comes with a downside for the remaining 1 million North Korean troops.

“A lot of soldiers are starving,” says Ha Tae-keung, president of Open Radio for North Korea, which gets news material from contacts inside North Korea and broadcasts by short-wave into the North. “Some of them are robbing civilians and taking bribes.”

Beside patrolling above the demilitarized zone, the North’s special forces train for commando-style raids at targets across the line or on the five South Korean islands in the Yellow Sea within several miles of the North Korean coastline. They also control North Korea’s array of short-, medium-, and long-range missiles and are responsible for defending the North’s nuclear complex at Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, and nuclear facilities elsewhere.

The North’s special forces “are doing amphibious operations against the islands and also can go into Incheon,” the major port west of Seoul, says Prof. Kim. “The white paper is saying South Korea needs to pay more attention to their special forces.”

Prof. Kim credits President Lee with expressing the South’s willingness to participate in six-party talks hosted by China on North Korea’s nuclear weapons, while strengthening South Korean forces. The South has far fewer troops, about 650,000, but they’re believed to be considerably better equipped.

Mr. Lee “is emphasizing North Korea as an entity for dialogue and also as an entity for pressure,” says Prof. Kim. “Our president is trying to give the impression South Korea is not denying the need for dialogue, but we need to come up with meaningful results.”

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