North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

KJI Conducts KPA Inspection Tour

Kim Jong Il greeting members of KPA Unit #322. Also in attendance are Ri Yong Ho, Kim Myong Kuk, Pak Jae Gyong, among others (Photo: KCNA)

Since mid-October, Kim Jong Il has conducted six (6) inspections of KPA units.  Until an account of his field inspection of KPA Unit #4303 appeared in DPRK media on or around 19 October 2011, KJI was reported to have made only three KPA unit inspections in 2011, with one visit a the command element of political officers in February and two headquarters inspections in July.  This does not mean the KPA has lost the affection of the party center.  Even though KJI has conducted only three field inspections, he has visited a number of military-affiliated factories and production sites, as well as attended numerous concerts and cultural events (such as the September Worker-Peasant Red Guards’ parade) of the KPA’s supernumerary organizations.

Kim Jong Il talks to members of KPA Unit #4304 (Photo: KCNA)

The first of these inspections was his visit to KPA Unit #4304.  During this visit KJI focused on political education and ideological indoctrination.  He was also reported to have observed training exercises of the unit, prior to posing for a commemorative photograph with officers and service members.  The most significant participant at this inspection was arguably Lt. Gen. Ri Tu Song (Yi Tu-so’ng; Ri Tu-so’ng), who attended a concert by soldiers which was KJI’s last reported public appearance before the inspection of Unit 4304.  Lt. Gen. Ri attained his current rank on the 27 September 2010 military promotions list which included, among others, Kim Jong Un (Kim Cho’ng-u’n).  KCNA reports:

After watching the training of the stalwart fighters, he expressed great satisfaction over the fact that the soldiers of the unit are getting ready to creditably perform their duties under any unexpected circumstances by using training apparatuses manufactured by the unit itself.

Then he went round the servicepersons’ hall, library and mess hall to learn about the political and ideological education of them and supply service for them.

He visited a company of the unit.

He went round an education room, bedroom, wash-cum bath house and other places of the company and took deep care of the soldiers’ living.

He gave precious instructions on the issues arising in strengthening the company, telling the commanding officers who were accompanying him that to strengthen the company, a main combat unit, is a very important and responsible work for building the KPA into an invincible revolutionary army of Mt. Paektu.

He had a picture taken with servicepersons of the unit with profound care for them.

Commemorative photograph taken during Kim Jong Il's inspection of KPA Unit #985 (Photo: KCNA-Yonhap)

On 22 October Kim Jong Il was reported to have inspected KPA Unit #985, which is linked to the Guard Command.  The KCNA report was dated 22 October, however it is highly likely that KJI visited and inspected Unit 985 on or around 21 October, putting the visit within 24 hours after the death of former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddaffi.  The timing of KJI’s visit to a unit whose primary mission is the personal security of the leadership with the death of a former DPRK ally and strongman leader caused some Pyongyang watchers to correlate these two events.  Based on KCNA’s account, the visit was characterized by nostalgia, although it also referred to KJI asking for the soldiers’ “vigilance against the enemies’ moves for aggression”:

He expressed great satisfaction over the fact that all the commanding officers and staff members of the unit are getting ready to creditably perform their duties under any unexpected circumstances through their effective training of thoroughly arming themselves with the Juche- oriented military idea of strategy and tactics set forth by the WPK.

Then he toured the servicepersons’ hall and a library to learn about the political and ideological education of them and dropped in at a mess hall to take care of the diet of soldiers directly under the unit as their real parents would do.

Watching carefully one by one the staple and non-staple food on the cooking-stand, he learned in detail about the unit’s bean farming this year, the amount of bean service for the soldiers a day and the supply of meat.

He went to the Koagol revolutionary site situated in the area where the unit is stationed.

He recollected with deep emotion the immortal feats the President performed by foiling the “new offensive” of the U.S. imperialists with his farsighted wisdom and gifted military strategy to open a turning phase in the Fatherland Liberation War.

He praised the unit’s soldiers for making their full devotions to preserve the site associated with the giant footprints of the President in its original state.

Highly estimating once again all the servicepersons of the unit for keeping sharp vigilance against the enemies’ moves for aggression to creditably perform their guard duty, he set forth the important tasks to be carried out by the unit in increasing its combat capability in every way: The unit should intensify combat training in atmosphere of real war to reliably prepare all the commanding officers and soldiers to be versatile commanders and fighters who uphold the military-first will of the WPK with arms.

It is necessary to improve the commanding and management of the unit and establish the strong military discipline and thus fully demonstrate the militant spirit and might of elite revolutionary army.

Kim Jong Il waves to members of KPA Unit #789. Also seen in attendance are Ri Yong Ho (2nd R) and Kim Kyong Ok (R) (Photo: KCNA)

One day prior to meeting with the Chinese Ambassador to the DPRK, Kim Jong Il inspected KPA Unit #789.  This visit focused on the education of operations planning, as well as ongoing indoctrination efforts within the KPA.  Interestingly, this visit included the only reported appearance of NDC Vice Chairman and Minister of the People’s Armed Forces [MPAF], VMar Kim Yong Chun, during this batch of KPA inspections.  VMar Kim returned to Pyongyang to attend other public events.  While VMar Kim increasingly appears to be operating in a diminished capacity, it is not clear if he is being deliberately sidelined or if he has assumed a semi-retired status in the central leadership.  His current position at MPAF is a ceremonial position with its substantive functions residing under the National Defense Commission and General Staff.  Many of VMar Kim’s peers and cohorts within the KPA have either been marginalized or have passed away.

KJI watches training exercises of the KPAF's combined unit. (Photo: KCNA-Yonhap)

On 2 November KJI was reported to have inspected the combined unit of the KPA Air Force [Korean People’s Air Force] and supervised the unit’s flight training.  KJI’s last reported visit to a KPAF unit occurred during May 2009 when he was reported to have inspected KPAF Unit #814, however KPAF fighter planes participated in joint exercises which KJI watched with other members of the central leadership during 2010.  On 7 November KJI was reported to have inspected and supervised the training of KPAF Unit #813:

He expressed satisfaction with the fact that the unit officers have indulged themselves in deep thoughts of ways for winning victories in the fight by skillfully using war method and tactics of our own style suited to the enemies’ changed war method, combat action control law and the trend of development of arms equipment and put them into practice while placing the unit on a high alert.

He praised the pilots for preparing themselves to be skilful combat pilots, well aware that preparation for fight precisely means training and vice versa.

He climbed the commanding post and guided their flight training.

After watching the training he expressed great satisfaction over the fact that all the pilots have grown to be competent combat pilots. He congratulated them on their successful training.

He then went round the revolutionary historic site of the unit.

Looking around various places of the site including a monument to revolutionary history, a barrack and a well, he recollected with deep emotion the immortal exploits by President Kim Il Sung who achieved the great cause of building the flying corps in a brief span of time after the liberation and defended the country from the enemy aggression.

KJI’s 2011 KPAF inspections fit the pattern of previous visits in 2007 and 2008 whereby KJI visited one KPAF unit, followed up with an inspection of another unit several days later.  On 23 November 2007, KJI was reported to have inspected KPAF Unit #874 which was followed by a 5 December 2007 report of his inspection of KPAF Unit #378; in 2008 he was reported on 1 December to have inspected KPAF Unit #1016, followed by his being reported on 29 December to have visited KPAF Unit #1017.

KJI shakes hands with a member of KPA Air Force Unit #874 (Photo: KCNA-Yonhap)

Between visits to the KPAF units, Kim Jong Il inspected KPA Unit #322 and visited the T’aeso’ng Machine Plant.  His visit to Unit 322, part of which functions as an intelligence training school, was notable because of the prominent, albeit unreported, presence of Col. Gen. Kim Yong Chol.  Col. Gen. Kim has attended several of KJI’s visits during 2011 and 2010, and during the 3rd Party Conference he was seated with Kim Kyong Hui and a few places away from Kim Jong Un.  During KCTV’s news account of the inspection of Unit 322, Col. Gen. Kim appeared in a photo with both KJI and KJU.

Dropping in at the education room, he acquainted himself with the political and ideological education among the soldiers. He stopped for a long while before the photos of the heroes produced by the unit and added shine to their exploits. Standing before an honor bulletin board, he carefully looked at the photos of the soldiers who distinguished themselves in the military and political trainings.

Looking round the daily provision store, he was satisfied with the soldiers’ rich diet.

He once again highly praised the soldiers of the unit for following the moves of the enemies for aggression with vigilance and putting spurs to the training, always keeping themselves in high combat readiness.

It is not particularly unusual that Kim Jong Il engaged in a brisk round of KPA inspections.  Rather, what was unusual was that until mid-October he had only inspected three KPA units.  KJI likely curtailed his public KPA inspections as regime propaganda makers emphasized development activities in the domestic economy.  The decision to focus on the military may be a reaction to several external events.  KJI’s first inspection occurred after a state visit to the US by the ROK President.  His inspection of KPA Unit #985 took place after the DPRK and US reached an agreement on the recovery of remains of US service members killed during the Korean War, while a DPRK official visited the US for an academic forum and just after the demise of Qaddaffi in Libya.  The remainder of these KPA inspections occurred after a visit to Pyongyang by the Chinese Vice Premier and a US-DPRK interaction in Geneva on denuclearization.  Based on editorials in Rodong and KCNA, these four (4) inspections also could be read as a reaction to US-ROK solidarity which has been underscored by the visit to ROK by the US Secretary of Defense, and ongoing joint military exercises.
KJI’s inspections may also represent the beginning of the public phase of the Kim Jong Un succession within the KPA.  Reports on the military unit inspections included references to their historical significance to the KPA’s history as well as their past relationships either to Kim Il-so’ng or KJI.  Current and past unit members were singled out for their accomplishments.  The accounts of KJI’s visit to Unit 4304 and Unit 789 referred to “an invincible revolutionary army of Mt. Paektu.”  An account of KJI’s inspection of the KPAF combined unit said that the flight training “vigorously demonstrated the militant and lightning declaration of the powerful revolutionary army of Mt. Paektu.”  Accompanying images of the inspections set Kim Jong Un apart from the other members of the central leadership in attendance.  The inspections also presented an opportunity for KJI’s image makers to acquire additional documentation for use in films and other media ahead of both February and April 2012.
Based on the names publicized in DPRK media reports, KJI was accompanied at all of these inspections by his son, Kim Jong Un, and Jang Song Taek, NDC Vice Chairman.  Also in attendance at all of these inspections, as well as his other visits and interactions, were KPA Generals Pak Jae Gyong and Hyon Chol Hae.  For most of the 2000s Gen. Pak and Gen. Hyon (along with current Minister of People’s Security, Gen. Ri Myo’ng-su) were reported or observed attending nearly every public appearance by KJI, in their capacity as officials under the KPA Supreme Command apparatus.  Pak is one of the most powerful, and understated, general-grade officers in the KPA and his absence on the “distant path of on-the-spot guidance” did not represent a loss of status or power in the central leadership.  Pak may have replaced Ri Myo’ng-su as director of the NDC Administration Department, while retaining his other titles.  The presence of Gen. Pak and Gen. Hyon was not restricted to the military inspections because they also attended KJI’s dinner for the Chinese Ambassador to the DPRK which suggests that KJI is attempting to balance out the party’s place in his entourage during 2010 and 2011.  Their presence may also be related to reported DPRK weapons sales to Syria.
Attending some, but not all of the inspections was Ri Yong Ho, chief of the KPA General Staff.  VMar Ri may have supplanted the role previously assumed by Kim Yong Chun, as the central leadership’s key military escort.  Senior deputy (first vice) director of the CC KWP Organization Guidance Department Kim Kyong Ok, featured prominently in images positioned next to or behind Kim Jong Un, attended five inspections.  Military Security Command chief Gen. Kim Won Hong was reported to have attended four inspections.  The party’s military industry boss and NDC Member Pak To Chun was reported as having attended three inspections.  The chief of the General Staff Operations Bureau (which houses the office of the KPA Supreme Command), Kim Myong Kuk also attended three inspections, as did deputy (vice) director of Organization Guidance, Hwang Pyong So.
Despite the fact that several members of the Party Central Military Commission were reported as members of his entourage or greeted him during his inspections, the only person identified by his CMC affiliation was Kim Jong Un.

One comment on “KJI Conducts KPA Inspection Tour

  1. Pingback: KJU Officially Named KPA Supreme Commander | Korea Watch

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November 2011