Poll: Epic hypothetical battles: North Korea vs. ISIS

Tomorrow, Kim Jong-Un goes completely loco en la cabeza and decides to conquer the Islamic State (ISIS) and add it to his little empire. He is allowed to use the baby nukes that he is believed to have, but at some point his troops are going to have to go in there and take the territory street by street (or what remains of streets).

Here’s a brief summary of a few advantages and disadvantages that I see:

North Korea:

Advantages: Nuclear weapons, projective power (aircraft, ships), large-scale manufacturing capability, large population (cannon fodder to the max)
Disadvantages: Can’t farm for shit (constant famines), low troop morale, piles of crappy old Soviet-era equipment


Advantages: Crazed and devoted followers, knowledge of terrain, decent support from locals
Disadvantages: Low troop count, already being beaten to death by Americans, little projective power, piles of crappy old Soviet-era equipment

They are going to fight until the end. Who wins? Discuss.

Can NK drag China in? That is the main deciding factor. Otherwise one side has few allies (I am unaware of any “Jihad for Juche” recruitment drives), while the other seems to get recruits pretty readily. The saying is “never get involved in a land war in Asia,” but I think that the (East) Asians would fare more poorly in a straight out infantry battle compared to lobbing long range rockets.

The “piles of crappy old Soviet-era equipment” part made me laugh.

Increase the strength of the Native America forces at Little Bighorn by an order of magnitude and give them significant artillery. ISIS is Custer’s 7th Cav in that scenario. That’s how disparate the force ratios are.

1,210,000 vs. 258,000 max? Good point. Not sure what order of magnitude means here; LBH was not THAT disparate.

I think NK would brutally suppress the region and totally lock it down. Think Germany vs. Poland and Russia. What beat the Germans eventually was millions of bodies and lots of firepower. ISIS doesn’t have that.

Order of magnitude… multiply by ten. I went with estimates of ISIS strength I’ve seen in the 30-50k numbers that discount aligned groups in their anti-Assad coalition within Syria. That gets you in to the ballpark of an order of magnitude difference in the disparities.

You specify that Kim’s “crazy”—but is he stupid?

I mean, could we postulate that he’d do what an intelligent, rational person ruler would do to accomplish the goal, albeit disregarding the practicality or human cost, or are we talking about the plan that’d be hatched by a coked-out madman huddled in his bunker pushing phantom division markers around on a map?

The former presents some possibilities, especially if you leave morality out of it—does he merely want ISIS wiped out quickly? A good false flag operation might do the trick, if you utilized North Korean WMDs—set up a catspaw “ISIS-affiliated” group to nuke or gas some select targets in the Middle East, and count on the retaliation to be swift and frenzied enough to annihilate the enemy before anyone figures out the evidence doesn’t quite add up. If they ever do.

Or, less elaborately, and to do things more “above board,” Kim could offer the NK Army up essentially as Hessians, fighting for whatever party will pay their transport and operating costs. If he negotiates for a chunk of Syrian/Iraqi territory as part of the payment, that might even be a boost for his troops’ motivation—“A land grant awaits you in the Liberated Overseas Region—build a new life for the glory of Juche with your own farm, oil well, and a shiny new donkey on 100 acres promised to surviving veterans approved for settlement!”

By what black magic are you going to transport Kim’s forces to ISIS-land? Or vice versa?

I’m not trying to fight the hypothetical, but you said NK has “projective power (aircraft, ships)”, which seems to indicate you think NK could somehow get meaningful forces into current ISIS territory unassisted.

100% bollocks IMO.

NK has a few ships such as destroyers and corvettes. But not massive quantities of troop transports. And no long range airlift. And no long range nuke delivery systems. Even if you postulate their longest range missile test suddenly being operationalized *and *with nuke warheads, you’ve got the issue that range eastbound towards the US is rather more than range westbound towards the Middle East. I don’t think they’ll reach.
Now if instead we assume that by black magic NK’s entire territory is teleported to, say, western Iran so as to abut Iraq, we might have an actual fight instead of mere blustery words. IOW, move and rotate NK so the Tigris substitutes for the real-world NK/SK DMZ.

And as noted above, the difference in combat power is so lopsided it isn’t even a question. NK steamrolls ISIS and slightly expands its prison system to accommodate the few fighters or random locals it doesn’t execute on the spot.

^What LSLGuy said. NK couldn’t even get to the Middle East to fight. They don’t even have a blue water Navy.

If somehow they could transport their million man army and the supplies to support them (which they can barely even feed at home), I donno. NK has zero experience fighting in the desert. Their equipment is crap. The only thing I think they could really count on would be their AK47’s. But they would have a good 20 to 1 advantage in manpower. That would probably starve with in a week though.

Still working within the black magic world where NK is adjacent to ISIS-land …

I’m explicitly assuming what it seems most folks have been implicitly assuming: This war takes place in a vacuum where all the outside powers just pull up a chair to watch, in fact they pull their current real-world forces out entirely. And in this vacuum jihadi recruits from around the world in general and the Mideast in particular aren’t permitted to join the fray. If one relaxes either of these conditions I don’t know where else one could plausibly draw the boundaries and still have an interesting hypothetical.

With those preliminaries out of the way …

A good look at a globe shows the gross territory under ISIS influence now is about 5x the land area of NK. Over history at large, we have few examples of even heavily militarized societies successfully conquering that much additional territory.

OTOH, ISIS’ territory consists of a lot of truly uninhabited (not just sparsely inhabited) wasteland plus some towns, cities and agricultural areas tied together by networks of roads and villages along those roads. Which is why a small force like ISIS can tint so much of a map: they aren’t actually present in most of the tinted area, but neither is anyone else.

*If *NK limits its action to running up the same road network and overrunning the same populated areas they’re looking at controlling only roughly 1x their home territory. Which is historically plausible in and of itself.

But all that trackless waste is also a place for ISIS to hide and raid from. ISIS would be hard pressed to sustain themselves for long out there, but so would any NK pursuers. I see ISIS having some of the same kind of success they had against the local legit Arab armies: Harassment actions and localized massing to force isolated outposts to retract.

Said another way, a roads-only approach will leave NK forces with a huge surface area to protect. Competent armies generally want a compact area of control with few salients and no outposts. US forces can get away with a more outpost-oriented posture when we have overwhelming logistical and air cover to support and protect the perimeter of each outpost.

Both ISIS & NK forces are very weak logistically compared to typical First World militaries. And the third enemy of both is the shear harshness of the climate and terrain.
My revised bottom line:
Upon further consideration, I see NK can defeat ISIS wherever ISIS chooses to stand and fight. Since ISIS has already demonstrated a good grasp of asymmetrical warfare against several differing types of forces, we can assume they won’t do that unless cornered.

Absent set-piece battles, NK will sojourn into the desert & be swallowed or bogged by a mixture of terrain, ISIS harassment, and logistical shortcomings. Much like the periphery of the North Africa campaign in WWII; both sides fought the land almost as much as each other.

Kim’s Glorious play for People’s Lebensraum stalls pretty quickly then stalemate and attrition guerilla warfare set in. Kim eventually tires of (or can no longer afford) the meat grinder & NK goes home. Not much is left of ISIS by that time.

I’m assuming that the countries in between, like China, Uzbekistan, etc. allow NK troops to march through unopposed on their way to fight ISIS.
In that case, I’m pretty sure that NK would win. In any case, the best ISIS could hope for is not to lose. NK can stamp out ISIS; ISIS can’t stamp out NK.

What about if the US hires North Korea to go in and kick ISIS butt? We’d even throw in free transport round trip. ISIS gets torn up; North Korea gets torn up. Win-win for the US. It’d even be worth it to let them take the credit.

I doubt that ISIS would have a problem coming up with 1,250,000 bullets.

NK has a logistics problem - it has no transport or even stuff to transport.

When your army’s main recruitment motivator is “We get fed first!”, one has to wonder about both loyalty and training. Have these troops even been given live ammo for training?

As long as ISIS can strike at will and avoid the NK for a month (by which time a bowl of rice will be enough to cause defections), they can reduce the Koreans to mince meat.

If you change the ISIS base religion to one compatible with East Asia, and give them a year to get set up, I’d put even money on the fight - on NK’s own territory. One or two well-placed battles and recruitment will become real easy.

Yes, DPRK has an air force - but it is largely not airworthy and they don’t have fuel to train pilots. They have some fighters from the 70’s or 80’s - but a couple of dozen in number. The rest are 60’s relics you can buy on ebay.

Give the NK military unlimited money for 2 years and they could become (if they could kick the politicians and ideologues out) a credible force. It hasn’t happened yet.

I went with the shark although I did have to think about it for a while. In the end I think ISIS could be tough to defeat since its as much an idea or movement as it is a people or place. Places you can destroy and people can be killed but often their concepts can linger. Names can change and new faces appear but the concept “we want you dead” is a hard enemy to conquer.

The maximum the Norks using their own equipments could realistically send to Iraq would be perhaps a reinforced battalion, and they would bankrup themselves trying to keep it supplied. And that is if they turn every ship they have into a troop carrier; use destroyers etc to carry men and material across (has been done).

Now if they use commercial sea lift assets (assuming people permit them), they could get a lot more across, say two divisions? And some significant air assets. That would be a major force. However, in this case they are going to have the same disadvantages the Americans had, being in an alien culture where they do not know the land, or the people. Moreover, the have no experience fighting in deserts.

The best use here would be the use of Nork forces as shock troops, with airpower in conjunction with Iraqi forces who do most of the fighting. Basically like Cuba in Angola.

Who actually didquite well.

My first thought when I saw the thread title was, “who has home-field advantage?” because that would determine the winner. So ISIS it is.

NK can’t fight a war in Iraq, let alone win it, due to the troop transport, supply line, and other logistical problems that others have already mentioned. (ISIS couldn’t win a war in NK even if those problems were solved for them.)

ISIS appears to be the old Iraq - in both military and administrative function.
They can put together a real battle plan and be confident their troops will fight.

DPRK? If it wants to show how tough it is, it shoots the ocean with a missile. Why not amass troops at border? Run through the same kinds of games they get pissed about every year when the US and ROK play together.
An annual parade or two is all anyone sees of this big, scary army.

Do they even have overflights of the parades with their mighty air force?

If the mid-east states (excluding Israel, for obvious reasons) ever gets its military act together to the point it could credibly defeat ISIS, DPRK could provide cannon fodder to draw out ISIS.
That is about the only way DPRK wil ever have a hand in defeating it.

And, since DPRK is already renting out slaves to the world, it just might jump at the chance to rent out a few 100 thousand at “mercenary” rates. It would be interesting to see how much a DPRK tank and crew would bring on the open market - probably about twice the price of the RPG round required to kill it.

And ISIS strikes the first blow.

Come on NK, Unleash the Fury!

China could let NK transport troops across their territory or perhaps even search for voluntary recruits in the Chinese countryside, but the People’s Liberation Army are sitting this one out except possibly as hired noncombatant chauffeurs, paid in cash. E.g. NK could buy passage for its troops or supplies on Chinese ships but those ships are just going to dump soldiers and/or stuff off on the beach and then run. They aren’t staying around to provide fire support. NK can buy weapons from China, but it’s strictly cash and carry, no military aid packages permitted.

Your choice. I’m more interested in what would happen if it came to an actual rumble, which implies that NK has some way of getting their troops there.

ISIS would easily “win”, if by winning you mean avoid being destroyed.

ISIS isn’t some patch of land with a standing army, it’s diverse, fluid, and is whatever they say they are.