South Korea says North expands missile units, strengthens special forces

Seoul, Feb 2 (efe-epa).- The North Korean military has increased the number of units in its strategic forces responsible for overseeing the country’s missile program, the South Korean defense ministry said on Tuesday.

According to the white paper published by the South Korean ministry, North Korea has increased the number of missile brigades under the command of the Strategic Rocket Force to 13 from nine in 2018.

These are the main changes mentioned in the white paper published by the ministry bi-annually. The document assesses the North Korean military capabilities and assets.

The expansion is due to the new missiles that North Korea has tested in the last two years, including the short-range tactical systems known as KN-23, KN-24, and KN-25.

North Korea has also strengthened its special force and elevated its status, according to the white paper.

“The special warfare unit has carried out attack trainings by using mockups of South Korea’s major strategic facilities, and modernized its equipment,” the document says.

As for its stockpiles of weapons-grade plutonium, the South Korean government’s assessment remains unchanged from 2018.

Seoul estimates that the North Korean regime possesses about 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of weapons-grade plutonium, enough for 10 nuclear weapons.

North Korea’s ability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead is also estimated to have reached a “considerable” level, according to the paper.

In turn, the number of active members of the Korean People’s Army continues to stand at around 1.28 million, well above the 550,000 in the South, which also aims to reduce this number by 50,000 by 2022.

The two countries are technically still at war as the conflict between them (1950-1953) ended only with a ceasefire, not a peace treaty.

In any case, the white paper avoids calling North Korea an enemy, similar to the previous document published in early 2019 – the first under South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s current liberal government.

Under Moon, Seoul has launched a major diplomatic offensive that has resulted in three inter-Korean summits and has been crucial for dialog between Pyongyang and Washington.

However, a stalemate in de-nuclearization talks since 2019 has led Pyongyang to cool ties with its neighbor. EFE-EPA


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