One of the Syrian opposition delegates to peace talks in Geneva has claimed that North Korean military units are deployed in Syria, fighting on behalf of dictator Bashar Assad.
“Two North Korean units are there, which are Chalma-1 and Chalma-7,” said Assad al-Zoubi, who heads up the delegation from the Saudi-sponsored High Negotiations Committee, told Russia’s TASS news agency. He described North Korea’s forces as “fatally dangerous.”
Al-Zoubi also said a number of Iranian and Afghan “pilgrims” are fighting for Assad in Syria.
Al-Arabiya notes that al-Zoubi is a former colonel in the Syrian Arab Army, and currently heads the insurgent Free Syrian Army — a resume that may lend some credence to his claim.
The al-Arabiya report also recalls another opposition group alleging in 2013 that North Korean pilots were flying in the Syrian air force, and there have been reports of North Korean engineers helping the Assad regime upgrade its missiles. The Washington Post adds a claim from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in 2013 that a small number of North Korean officers were in Syria to provide “logistical and planning support.”
Furthermore, UPI recalls that a North Korean ship bound for Syria — carrying 1,400 pistols and 30,000 rounds of ammunition, along with hundreds of gas masks — was seized by Turkish authorities in March 2013. This report points out that training foreign armies is a source of income for the cash-strapped Communist regime in Pyongyang.
The Washington Post argues that al-Zoubi’s claim is not as outlandish as it might seem, because the Syrian conflict has become a “mini world war” with fighters from at least 86 different countries on the ground, and because Syria has enjoyed a military relationship with North Korea for decades.
UPI reports that a somewhat skeptical South Korean government is investigating the report of North Korean forces in Syria.