BEIJING â It was supposed to be steaming toward North Korea more than a week ago, an âarmadaâ signaling American resolve. Then it wasnât.
Now, it seems the USS Carl Vinson may finally be heading north.
âOur deployment has been extended 30 days to provide a persistent presence in the waters off the Korean Peninsula,â Rear Adm. Jim Kilby, commander of Carrier Strike Group One, said in a message posted on the Carl Vinsonâs Facebook page and addressed to âfamilies and loved onesâ of the personnel on board.
The Carl Vinson, accompanied by a carrier air wing, two guided-missile destroyers and a cruiser, was reported to have been ordered to sail north after leaving Singapore on AprilÂ 8. But a week later, the Navy published photos showing it was actually sailing in the opposite direction through the Sunda Strait between the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java, more than 3,000 miles southwest of the Korean Peninsula â and more than 500 miles southeast of Singapore.
It appears the confusion over its whereabouts stemmed from a U.S. Pacific Command announcement that âcould have been worded a little more clearly,â in the words of a defense official speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
On AprilÂ 9, the Pacific Command announced that the strike group was heading to the âWestern Pacific,â even as a spokesman for the Pacific Command linked the move directly to North Koreaâs âreckless, irresponsible and destabilizing program of missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability.â
Days later, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters that the Carl Vinson was âon her way up there.â In an interview that aired AprilÂ 12, President Trump said the United States was sending ships. âAn armada, very powerful,â he said.
They were not exactly wrong, Navy officials now say. Itâs just that the change of course toward the Korean Peninsula had not happened yet.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer, during his daily media briefing on Wednesday, disputed the notion that the administration had led anyone astray.
âWhat part is misleading? Iâm trying to figure that out,â Spicer said. âWe were asked a question about what signal [the decision to dispatch the carrier to the Western Pacific] sent. We answered the question on what signal it sent. Iâm not the one who commented on timing.â
It is not clear why the carrier strike group stayed in Southeast Asia, or why the Trump administration did not clarify where it was. On Tuesday, the Pacific Command said only that the strike group had completed military exercises â and would now head north.
âAfter departing Singapore on AprilÂ 8 and canceling a scheduled port visit to Perth, the Strike Group was able to complete a curtailed period of previously scheduled training with Australia in international waters off the northwest coast of Australia,â a U.S. Pacific Command spokesman said in a statement. âThe Carl Vinson Strike Group is heading north to the Western Pacific as a prudent measure.â
In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Mattis said Wednesday: âThe bottom line is in our effort to always be open about what we were doing we said that we that we were going to change the Vinsonâs upcoming schedule. The Vinson, as I said on the record, was operating up and down the Western Pacific and we were doing exactly what we said. That is, we were shifting her.
âWe donât generally give out ship schedules in advance, but I didnât want to play a game either and say we were not changing a schedule when in fact we had. So weâre doing exactly what we said we were going to do. She will be on her way, and Iâll determine when she gets there and where she actually operates, but the Vinson will be a part of our ensuring that we stand by our allies in the northwest Pacific.â
U.S. and South Korean news media have reported that the Carl Vinson is now expected to arrive off the Korean Peninsula by AprilÂ 25, just as North Korea marks the anniversary of its armyâs founding.
âOur mission is to reassure allies and our partners of our steadfast commitment to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region,â wrote Kilby, the carrier group commander. âWe will continue to be the centerpiece of visible maritime deterrence, providing our national command authority with flexible deterrent options, all domain access, and a visible forward presence.â
China, meanwhile, is feeling anything but reassured, warning recently that âa storm is about to breakâ over the divided Korean Peninsula.
Thomas Gibbons-Neff in Riyadh and Missy Ryan in Washington contributed to this report.