April 20, 2017 10:15
A U.S. Navy strike group headed by a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that was reportedly headed for waters near the Korean Peninsula apparently never arrived.
The strike group led by the USS Carl Vinson was to make the U.S.' military might felt to deter North Korea from any rash provocations during birthday celebrations of regime founder Kim Il-sung.
The Trump administration put out reports that it changed course toward Korea after departing from Singapore on April 8. But in fact it sailed south and then joined an exercise with Australia in the Indian Ocean.
"It's true that the Vinson had been heading for the Korean Peninsula until April 12," a military spokesman here claimed. "Afterwards, it changed course for unknown reasons, and that created confusion because the U.S. didn't say anything about it."
The strike group had reached Singapore on April 4 after taking part in joint drills with the South Korean Navy in the East Sea on March 19-25. It was supposed to refuel and continue south to Australia.
But on April 9, U.S. Pacific Command said that Adm. Harry Harris, the PACOM commander, had ordered the strike group to sail north and operate in the Western Pacific. It said the change of course was aimed at responding directly to a "primary threat" from North Korea.
On April 11, U.S. President Donald Trump said he was sending a formidable "armada" to the North. But by then the Vinson was already in the Indian Ocean some 5,500 km away from the Korean Peninsula.
On Monday Pacific Command published photos of the Vinson with captions saying it was passing the Sunda Strait between Sumatra and Java and the Indian Ocean last Saturday.
And the U.S. Defense Department on Tuesday said the Vinson is now in waters off the northwest coast of Australia and expected to sail north towards the east coast of the Korean Peninsula within 24 hours.
Rear Adm. James Kilby, the armada's commander, wrote on Facebook, "Our deployment has been extended 30 days to provide a persistent presence in the waters off the Korean Peninsula."
It is expected to arrive in waters off the Korean Peninsula around April 25, the 85th anniversary of the North Korean Army, which could be another occasion for a provocation.
"The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command had been on standby from early morning April 7, after we received intelligence reports around April 6 that the North would carry out a massive provocation," the military spokesman added. "It seems that the Vinson was heading north to prepare for all situations at the time but turned back after the state of emergency ended."
U.S. media outlets have attributed the muddle to miscommunications between the White House and the Pentagon, which failed to brief the White House accurately.
The White House has made no further comment except to tell reporters to ask the Pentagon, which then claimed it had never said the Vinson would arrive in Korean waters by April 15.
But there is speculation that the Trump administration deliberately wanted to confuse Pyongyang and Beijing. An expert at the Center for Korean Studies at Fudan University in China said, "It was sophisticated propaganda or a bluff."
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