Who is O Kuk-ryol?
O Kuk-ryol is a North Korean military general and since April 2009, has been a Vice Chairman of the National Defence Commission of North Korea as head of the Operations Department. The son of O Jung-song and nephew of O Jung-hup, who allegedly fought the Japanese with Kim Il-sung, O Kuk-ryol was among war orphans under the care of Kim Il-sung's wife Kim Jong-suk and was a close personal friend of Kim Jong-il from childhood. He has been called the second most powerful man in North Korea. As a Kim loyalist, press reports have named him as a figure to watch in the leadership succession of Kim Jong-un, and the regime appeared to be purging O's protégés in January 2011 to prevent him from being a threat to Jong-un.
After attending Mangyongdae Revolutionary School, Kim Il Sung University and air force academies in the Soviet Union, O served as an air force commander, beginning as a major general and superintendent of the Kim Chaek Air Force Academy, the North’s top air force academy, in 1964, and then as a lieutenant general and air force commander in 1968 before joining politics in 1970 as a member of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea. He was also elected deputy to the Supreme People's Assembly in 1967. In 1973, he was among the pilots who were sent to aid the Egyptian Air Force during the Yom Kippur War. He was promoted again in 1979 to Chief of General Staff of the Korean People's Army, after serving two years as the deputy chief of staff. He became part of the "1980 group," who rose to power as Kim Jong-il started succeeding Kim Il-sung at the Party's 6th Congress, when O was elected member of the Politburo and the Central Military Commission. He was later awarded the Order of Kim Il-sung, promoted to general and put in charge of the Mirim Electronic Warfare Institute for developing cyber warfare. A dispute with Minister of People's Armed Forces O Jin-u in 1988 led to his demotion and forced him to undertake a period of re-education; this may have had to do with enabling his later counterfeiting activities.