North Korean military authorities ordered units patrolling the maritime military demarcation line (MDL) off the country’s eastern and western coasts to adopt “top combat posture” on Monday morning, Daily NK has learned.

The order indicates that the North Korean leadership is preparing for the potential of clashes between the two Koreas amid efforts to recover the body of a South Korean fisheries official who was recently shot and killed by the crew of a North Korean patrol vessel. The order may also be an attempt by the leadership to use existing tensions caused by the incident as a way to increase “solidarity” among members of the military.

A similar order to heighten the military’s alert posture was handed down to frontline units by Kim Yo Jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, around the time North Korea blew up the inter-Korean liaison office on June 16.

According to a military source in North Korea yesterday, the country’s General Staff Department relayed the order to adopt top combat posture to the Naval Command on Monday. The Naval Command then transmitted the order to the First Naval Flotilla of the East Sea Fleet and the Eighth Naval Flotilla of the West Sea Fleet. The two units assumed top combat posture that same morning.

After receiving the order, the two units moved to increase the number of high-speed boats and patrol vessels by two-fold in their “maritime operational zones.” The two units’ leadership also ensured that soldiers under their command understood that they must “reliably protect the motherland’s territorial waters to prevent any disgraceful armed clashes from occurring during the national event period surrounding the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Party on Oct. 10,” the source said.

The First Flotilla conducts patrols off of Gosong, Gangwon Province, while the Eighth Flotilla conducts patrols near the Ongjin Peninsula, South Hwanghae Province. The latest order has, in essence, placed patrol units on both the West Sea and East Sea on high alert in their respective operational areas.

The order for the units to adopt top combat posture appears connected with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s recent directive to the General Staff Department to strengthen the military’s alert posture. Kim’s order came just a day after he reportedly relayed an apology to South Korea’s government about the killing of the South Korean fisheries official.

north korean navy
North Korean navy sailors conducting drills. / Image: DPRK Today

While North Korea has displayed a “soft-line” toward the outside world regarding the incident, the country’s leaders have used it to increase the level of tension inside the country. This is a common tactic the North Korean leadership uses to unify members of its society.

“The West Sea incident [the shooting of the fisheries official] has led the authorities to emphasize that naval units must be highly tense and vigilant while conducting patrol operations near the maritime demarcation line,” the source said. “[The authorities] are stressing that the country is faced with a military confrontation and that the Korean People’s Army must be unwavering in any situation.”

North Korea’s United Front Department claimed that the killing of the South Korean fisheries official “followed procedure” on Sept. 25. On Sept. 27, in a Korean Central News Agency article, North Korea threatened that it would “not overlook any intrusions into our territorial waters.”

“The leadership is emphasizing that the top combat posture will be maintained until Oct. 15,” the source said. “Just like during the West Sea Maritime Battle [Yongpyongdo Battle], they are creating a sense of tension by stressing that [the military] must carefully watch over the enemy’s movements.”

The source told Daily NK that the reason the shift to top combat posture was not announced publicly – in contrast to Kim Yo Jong’s order in June – was because news of the demolition of the inter-Korean liaison office was reported to ordinary North Koreans while the shooting of the South Korean fisheries official was not.

“[The leadership] believes there’s no reason to create unrest among the people,” he added.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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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 dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.