U.S. and South Korean soldiers watch as a U.S. Army launcher fires a rocket during a joint exercise in Gangwon Province, South Korea, Aug. 31, 2022.

U.S. and South Korean soldiers watch as a U.S. Army launcher fires a rocket during a joint exercise in Gangwon Province, South Korea, Aug. 31, 2022. (South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense)

CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — The U.S. and South Korean armed forces kicked off their largest joint live-fire drills in eight years Thursday near the border with North Korea to mark the 70th anniversary of their alliance.

At least 2,500 troops from 70 units are taking part in the exercise, South Korean Ministry of National Defense spokesman Jeon Ha Gyu told reporters during a news briefing on Thursday.

The training will end on June 15, a ministry official said by phone. South Korean officials regularly speak to the media on a customary condition of anonymity.

The drills aim to improve joint military operations between the countries while commemorating the 70th anniversary of the U.S.-South Korean alliance after the 1950-53 Korean War, Jeon said.

The training is the “embodiment of ‘peace through strength,’” he said, referring to a phrase U.S. and South Korean officials use frequently to describe their combat capabilities to deter North Korea.

North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency on Thursday referred to the allied exercises as “war drills for aggression.”

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol last month made a state visit to the White House, where he and President Joe Biden signed a statement commemorating the 70th anniversary and pledged to continue their military partnership.

The joint training “advances” the alliance and develops “leaders for whom readiness and lethality are a critical area of responsibility,” U.S. Forces Korea spokesman Wesley Hayes said in an email to Stars and Stripes on Thursday.

“During the past seven decades, the relationship between the U.S. and [South Korea] continues to grow stronger while training side-by-side to increase combat readiness … and support the ironclad commitment to defend [South Korea’s] sovereignty from any threat or adversary,” he said.

Hayes, citing security concerns, declined to provide information on troop numbers and assets involved in the live-fire drills.

Thursday’s training took place in Pocheon city, roughly 16 miles from the Demilitarized Zone, where 800 U.S. and 400 South Korean troops conducted Warrior Shield, a large-scale exercise, two months earlier.

Warrior Shield included a host of military equipment, including South Korea’s K1A2 main battle tanks and K-9A1 howitzers, and the U.S.’s Stryker vehicles, M777 howitzers, AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and A-10 Thunderbolt II Warthogs.

North Korea has launched 12 ballistic missiles in nine separate days of testing so far this year. The regime’s most recent missile on April 13 flew about 620 miles before landing in the East Sea, or Sea of Japan, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

David Choi is based in South Korea and reports on the U.S. military and foreign policy. He served in the U.S. Army and California Army National Guard. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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