Soldiers who appear to be part of the “Storm Corps” on duty near the Yalu River on North Korea’s border with China. Taken by ASIAPRESS on the Chinese side of the border in October 2020.

The “Storm Corps,” which is an elite military unit deployed to the China-North Korea border to seal it during the COVID-19 pandemic has suddenly been removed from the area. The extraction may be due to an emergency re-positioning of military forces to respond to the large-scale US and South Korean joint military exercises that began in March. (KANG Ji-won)

◆ What is the “Storm Corps”?

ASIAPRESS reporting partners in the city of Hoeryong and Musan County in North Hamgyung Province and in Yanggang Province reported recently that the “Storm Corps” was suddenly pulled out of the China-North Korea border region from March 9 to March 10.

The “Storm Corps” refers to an elite military unit deployed to the China-North Korea border from other areas of the country. The unit is tasked with sealing the border, including cracking down on illicit drugs, smuggling, and defections, along with anti-socialist behavior, such as the illegal distribution of South Korean dramas and movies.

The “Storm Corps” has frequently been deployed to the border region since the Kim Jong-il era, but the number of troops and the unit’s role was expanded after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in January 2020. The unit was permanently stationed across the border region stretching from the Tumen to Yalu rivers.

The unit was focused on preventing the spread of COVID-19 in North Korea from China. The unit worked with the border patrol and local police to prevent illegal river crossings, smuggling and entry into a buffer zone along the border. The unit also monitored illegal activity perpetrated by the border guards, including taking bribes to help people cross the border. In short, the “Storm Corps” was deployed in large numbers to the border to maintain control over the border amid the “national emergency” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

◆ An emergency re-deployment to respond to US-ROK military drills?

Why has North Korea pulled out the “Storm Corps” as the country’s COVID-19 policies continue to remain in force? A reporting partner in Hyesan told ASIAPRESS the following:

“Lectures for ordinary people were held by the authorities last week (the second week of March). The lectures stated that the Americans and South Korean puppets have begun joint military drills in preparation for war, which has created a dangerous and unsettled state of affairs. This, the lectures said, has forced the government to quickly pull out the “Storm Corps” because special forces units need to prepare for battle. Soldiers in other units have also been banned from leaving their bases, and the border guard is also conducting emergency drills.”

◆ Government tells people that war is not on the horizon

The reporting partner pointed out, however, that the authorities are not creating an atmosphere of imminent war. When North Korean tensions with the US and South Korea rise, the North Korean regime frequently proclaims the implementation of a “quasi-state of war system” and mobilizes the population to conduct drills. This time, however, this kind of atmosphere does not exist, and the authorities are telling people to stay calm because there is no chance a war will break out.

“At the lectures, the authorities said that ‘nobody can mess with us because we have nuclear weapons. The enemy is afraid of us.’ In the past, the authorities would mobilize the entire military and population to conduct various drills to prepare for an armed provocation by the enemy, but this time they just emphasized that we should ‘put trust (in the Workers’ Party) and focus on implementing the agricultural revolution and economic tasks.’”

North Korea’s economic troubles have become so serious that there are reports of people dying of malnutrition among the country’s vulnerable population. If the regime claims that a war could break out, this may cause poverty-stricken people to desire the outbreak of war. The Kim Jong-un regime seems to be afraid of that happening.

※ ASIAPRESS communicates with its reporting partners through Chinese cell phones smuggled into North Korea.

Map of North Korea ( ASIAPRESS)