North Korea troop movements may point to military parade
North Korea appears to be moving troops and vehicles to a Pyongyang staging area it uses to prepare for military parades, weeks ahead of an October ruling party anniversary celebrated previously with displays of new weaponry.
Almost 10,000 troops along with military vehicles were spotted around the Mirim Parade Training Ground, the Yonhap News Agency reported Thursday, citing unidentified South Korean government sources. The South Korean military is closely watching activities at the area near a major Pyongyang airfield, Yonhap said.
The 38 North website tweeted a satellite photo it said was of the staging area. It said troop formations could be seen at the Mirim Parade Training Ground, which could be for a parade in October. It added that practice for parades usually begins about one to two months before the event.
A parade would serve as a chilling reminder to U.S. President Joe Biden that Kim Jong Un's military might has grown more lethal as nuclear disarmament talks have sputtered. Under Kim, North Korea has been steadily adding to its stockpile of fissile material and increasing its arsenal of missiles that could deliver a war to the U.S. mainland.
Three rounds of direct talks between Kim and former President Donald Trump led to no concrete steps to unwind North Korea's nuclear arms program. Kim has so far shown no interest in sitting down with the Biden administration, which has said it's open for discussions and indicated it could offer economic incentives in exchange for disarmament steps.
Last October to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party, North Korea rolled out what experts said was the state's biggest display of new weaponry under Kim, including what they described as the world's biggest road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile.
The size and likely engine configuration of the so-far-untested missile could carry several thousand pounds of payload anywhere in the U.S. and might allow North Korea to pack multiple atomic weapons in a single rocket, weapons experts said.
North Korea also appears to have resumed operations at its plutonium-producing Yongbyon nuclear reactor for the first time in about three years, the United Nations atomic watchdog said in the past week. The aging facility north of Pyongyang once churned out roughly enough plutonium each year for one atomic bomb and was thought to help in the production of tritium — a radioactive isotope of hydrogen used to boost the yield of nuclear weapons.
North Korea over the past several years has used uranium enrichment as the main source of fissile material for weapons, with nuclear experts saying the state can produce enough weapons-grade material for at least six nuclear bombs a year.
In the past year, Kim has staged two military parades at night to increase the dramatic effect of the events that have been a staple of the state for decades. The most recent versions included stunts like LED lighting on jet fighters flying by and drone shots following thousands of goose-stepping soldiers marching through the main square in Pyongyang named after state founder Kim Il Sung — the current leader's grandfather.
Moving parades to night gives Kim's regime greater control of the images of weaponry seen by the outside world through video his state edits. They also make it more difficult for spy satellites to glean data from the gatherings about the weapons North Korea rolls through central Pyongyang.