winter military drills
North Korean soldiers / Image: DPRK Today

Amidst strong condemnations of US-South Korean air force drills, North Korea recently held anti-aircraft defense drills among the civilian population and in the military, Daily NK has learned. 

Several Daily NK sources in both Ryanggang and South Pyongan provinces reported on Nov. 14 that North Korean authorities had civilians take part in “blackout” training on Nov. 12 and anti-aircraft defense drills on Nov. 13.

The blackout training held on Nov. 12 had North Koreans cover the windows of their homes to prevent any light from seeping through after the sounding of an air raid siren. Local police and Ministry of State Security (MSS) offices conducted joint patrols to ensure the populace complied with the blackout order. Similar drills involving civilians have been held in the past, including during winter military exercises

The anti-aircraft defense drills on Nov. 13 began after the sounding of an air raid alarm twice. Worker-Peasant Red Guards and Young Red Guards wearing regular military uniforms pretended to be the enemy attacking and “occupied” their assigned target areas. The elderly, women and children were sent to assigned evacuation points. 

North Korean officials did not alert the populace about the training through the country’s network of inminban; instead, the country’s “emergency contact network” was used to initiate the training, Daily NK sources reported. 

“[The authorities] aimed to impress upon the people need to be attentive [toward the possibility of an invasion] while making it seem like a real war had broken out,” a Ryanggang Province-based source explained. “The drills were likely aimed to check how ideologically ready the people are [for the outbreak of war].”

North Korean officials also announced the holding of a compulsory evacuation training from 9 AM on Nov. 14. North Koreans were forced to head to assigned shelters along with backpacks with food for lunch and emergency food, and authorities emphasized that they carefully package and transport portraits of the Kim family in their homes as well. 

“During the drills, the authorities told people how to act during a time of war and conducted ideological education,” the source said. “North Korean officials jammed signals in Hyesan and other areas near the Sino-North Korean border to prevent people from using Chinese cell phones and prevent any information from seeping out.” 

North Korea’s military also held anti-aircraft defense drills, sources told Daily NK. 

“We headed to bed at 9:40 PM on Nov. 13 after our nightly check at 9:30 AM, but at 9:50 AM an order came down suddenly to line up,” a Daily NK military source based in North Pyongan Province said. “The military authorities decided to suddenly conduct a review of the military’s wartime mobilization posture.” 

The source reported that while the soldiers had expected to be involved in a military exercise, they weren’t sure what time it would occur.

“All soldiers on the base are tense because it’s clear the higher ups plan to conduct a review of the fully-equipped troops in an underground facility,” he added. 

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Jeong Tae Joo is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. He focuses on North Korean military matters. Please direct any questions about his articles to