In an elaborate military parade this past weekend designed to set the stage for another spectacular missile test, North Korea rolled out the highest profile heavy hitters in its arsenal. The occasion landed on what would have been North Korea’s founding father Kim Il-Sung’s 105th birthday, and was speculated to coincide with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) sixth nuclear weapon test or missile launch.
The biggest news story to come from the display of raw military power was the failed missile launch, which some believe to have been potentially thwarted by a U.S. cyber-attack. But buried behind the entertaining imagery of a glorious communist missile exploding just after take-off, some news agencies have been reporting on the appearance of a “brand new” North Korean Special Operations Force (SOF).
The intimidating images of these DPRK SOF soldiers in formation carrying what appears to be some sort of modified rifle were usually accompanied with frightening details of the primary mission of the special mission unit: kidnapping westerners. This information reportedly came from a North Korean defector, who said he had been ‘brainwashed’ and indoctrinated as part of belonging to the “11th Storm Corps,” which owns the kidnapping mission.
Whether this particular defector is a legitimate source or not, North Korea has conducted numerous kidnappings abroad over the decades. Most of these kidnappings fit a larger North Korean strategy of intimidation and provocation, looking to goad South Korea or the US into reacting or overreacting and legitimizing the DPRK’s position on the world stage.