Naval Strike Force Now Headed to Korean Peninsula
Defense Secretary James Mattis on Wednesday blamed confusion over a USA aircraft carrier and its strike group that officials suggested had been sent to the Korean Peninsula on an effort to be transparent.
The carrier group is expected to arrive in the region next week, the Times quoted unnamed Defense Department officials as saying.
The mixed messaging is being viewed by some as undermining the United States' credible threat of military force against North Korea.
"The Carl Vinson Strike Group cancelled a previously planned port visit to Australia and is continuing on track for all assigned missions in the Western Pacific", a statement said.
The Trump administration cited the deployment of the naval strike force, which includes the carrier and four warships, as a clear warning to North Korea, which was said to be planning a nuclear test last weekend in conjunction with a national holiday.
Those same officials did not push back on reports that the Vinson would return to Korean waters, where the strike group operated for much of March as part of the annual U.S. That's a fact. It happened.
But on Tuesday, Defense News reported that a publicly released photo showed the Vinson off the coast of Indonesia, about 3,500 miles away from the Korean Peninsula, and heading south, not north to its stated destination.
Lu Chao, director of the Border Studies Institute at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, said the latest test, despite its failure, could be another defiant message from Pyongyang that it will not change its tough stance in the face of USA pressure even amid a growing threat of military action.
The narrative last week was that the US and its allies in the western Pacific were gearing up for a showdown with strongman Kim Jong Un ahead of the anniversary of the birth of his grandfather, the late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency also reported that the strike group had wrapped up joint exercises with Australia in recent days and was sailing to the peninsula.
It is now confirmed that the aircraft carrier's crew will spend at least an extra month at sea.
The perceived communications mix-up discredits some of the tough rhetoric coming from the Trump administration.
"We are keeping a fully prepared position against North Korea to deter any provocations, given that many political events are taking place (in April)", he said, referencing North Korea's annual Day of the Sun celebrations.
The Latest on U.S. Vice President Mike Pence's trip to Asia (all times local): --- 2:30 p.m.
Pence is noting in a statement alongside South Korean Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn that President Donald Trump recently launched airstrikes in Syria.