President Donald Trump’s administration has denied being misleading about a US carrier strike group’s push toward the Korean Peninsula, saying it never gave an arrival date and that the ships were still on their way.
When Mr Trump boasted early last week that he had sent an “armada” as a warning to North Korea, the USS Carl Vinson strike group was reportedly still far from the Korean Peninsula, and headed in the opposite direction.
The US military’s Pacific Command explained that the strike group first had to complete a shorter-than-initially planned period of training with Australia but was now heading toward the Western Pacific.
“The President said that we have an armada going towards the peninsula,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.
“That’s a fact. It happened. It is happening, rather.”
He referred further queries about the deployment timetable to the Pentagon.
The US military initially said in a statement dated April 10 that Admiral Harry Harris, the commander of Pacific Command, directed the Vinson strike group “to sail north and report on station in the Western Pacific”.
But the strike group first headed elsewhere.
On April 15, the US Navy published a photo showing the Vinson transiting the Sunda Strait on its way to drills with Australia, while news outlets reported on April 11 that the movement would take more than a week.
But the Navy, for security reasons, explained that it does not report future operational locations of its ships.
Defence Secretary Jim Mattis looked to address confusion over the issue on Wednesday, telling reporters traveling with him in the Middle East that the alteration in the Vinson’s schedule had been disclosed in the interest of transparency.
“We are doing exactly what we said we were going to do. She will be on her way,” he said.
“But right now I didn’t want to play a game either and say we were not changing a schedule when in fact we had.”
Mr Mattis said the strike group was now on its way to the Western Pacific as ordered.
The strike group’s commander, Rear Admiral Jim Kirby, said in a Facebook post this week that the deployment had even been extended 30 days “to provide a persistent presence in the waters off the Korean Peninsula”.
A Trump administration official said Washington was concerned about the possibility of some kind of North Korean provocation around the time of the South Korean election on May 9.
“There is precedent going back to the 1990s and early 2000s where there are provocations timed to South Korean political events,” he said.
Carrier mix-up not helping ‘de-escalate tension’: China
China has avoided directly criticising the United States for lying about the course of its nuclear aircraft carrier, but warned that such actions might compromise regional peace.
‘We have said again and again all parties need to work together to de-escalate the tension instead of being provocative because provocation cannot achieve the goals,’ Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said during a press conference on Wednesday.
He stated the situation in the Korean peninsula is highly sensitive all countries involved should avoid aggravating the situation.