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North Korean special unit adds light infantry troops

The North, with its 1.19 million-strong military, boasts the world’s greatest number of special forces soldiers. According to Seoul’s defense whitepaper, the number increased to around 200,000 last year from some 120,000 in 2006 and 180,000 in 2008.

The North has been bolstering its special troops as it apparently believes it can effectively defeat its potential enemies ― South Korea and the U.S. ― through guerrilla warfare using its special troops rather than engaging in a regular, all-out war.

According to military sources, the North’s special warfare forces consist of some 140,000 light infantry troops and 60,000 special operation troops.

The special operation troops are said to consist of 50,000 soldiers of the 11th Corps and 10,000 soldiers under the Reconnaissance General Bureau, the North’s premier intelligence body thought to have masterminded the sinking of the Cheonan.

The North appears to be focusing largely on nurturing light infantry special troops as they could swiftly infiltrate into frontline and non-frontline areas to destroy priority targets, assassinate key figures and cause confusion here.

The 80,000 troops that have been added to the North’s special forces over the last four years are also thought to be light infantry troops, military experts presume.

In the event of a war with the South, North Korean troops are expected to quickly infiltrate South Korean territory through underground tunnels and by using hover and landing crafts at sea, and low-altitude radar-evading AN-2 biplanes, helicopters and other vehicles in the air.

Officials here believe that with some 260 amphibious landing vessels, 170 AN-2 aircraft and 130 helicopters, a maximum of 10,000 troops aboard ships and 5,000 troops aboard aircraft can infiltrate the South simultaneously.

North Korean special troops also undergo notoriously tough training all year round to become “human weapons.”

Lee Gwang-su, a North Korean guerilla captured after his submarine went aground off the eastern coastal town of Gangneung in 1996, said, “(One special troop) receives training for more than three hours a day to win a fight with three to 15 enemy troops. Before infiltration into the South, special troops shoot more than 3,000 times.”

Their training in the North is known to be divided into a summer session from mid-June to early August and a winter session from December to mid-February.

Light infantry soldiers march 20 kilometers for 10 hours, wearing a 35-kilogram military bag. During their mountain-climbing sessions, they hone attacking, ambushing and camping.

By Song Sang-ho (