North Korean soldiers are being issued with lightened packs and other combat gear in an apparent bid to ease the loads carried by troops weakened by malnutrition, according to sources in the reclusive, nuclear-armed state.
The move, which went into effect at the beginning of the year, will reduce the weight of combat packs from 55 to 40 pounds, a civilian worker in Yanggang province, bordering China, told RFA’s Korean Service.
“[North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un has ordered supply departments to reduce the weight of combat equipment, and the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces is testing the lightened equipment with some units of troops,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
North Korea’s 7th Light Infantry and troops attached to the Pyongyang Defense Command have already performed training exercises using the lighter gear in the area of Sunchon city, the source said.
North Korea’s General Rear Services Bureau, which is responsible for supply and logistical support to the country’s military, will issue the new equipment to all units by April of this year, the source said.
Though previous pack weights of 55 pounds excluded items such as weapons, gas masks, and water bottles, “Kim Jong Un’s order to reduce loads means that the weight of the army’s backpack, including gas masks and water bottles, must now be no more than 40 pounds,” a source in North Hamgyong province said.
No cost to implement
The new policy will cost nothing to implement, he added, as it will require only that certain items of equipment—some in use since the early 1980s—be eliminated, or their quantity reduced.
Personal first aid supplies will now be limited to bandages, cold remedies, and medicine for treating diarrhea, he said. And an additional reduction of weight will be achieved by replacing blankets and individual tents with waterproof raincoats and thermal underwear.
Food rations will now also be distributed every three days, instead of the rations handed out in larger amounts once a week, he added.
North Korea’s military, the Korean People’s Army (KPA), now numbers about 1.2 million troops, with the number of reserve forces believed to be about 7.7 million, according to the 2015 White Paper issued by the South Korean Defense Ministry last week.
KPA troops suffer from chronic malnutrition, an ASIAPRESS report, “Kim Jong-un’s Starving Soldiers,” said last year.
“It is not only the ordinary soldiers but the subordinate officers that are also emaciated, and it is not unusual to see these soldiers visiting ordinary people’s homes, knocking door to door, asking for food,” ASIAPRESS said.
North Korean soldiers regularly cross the frozen Tumen River in the winter months to raid for food and rob villagers in China’s Jilin province, Bloomberg News said on Jan. 14.
Reported by Sung-hui Moon. Translated by Hanna Lee. Written in English by Richard Finney.