The Straits Times
Aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) transiting the South China Sea on March 2, 2017.PHOTO: AFP
There has been confusion over the exact location of the US carrier strike group that President Donald Trump said he was deploying to the Korean peninsula in response to military provocations by Pyongyang. Here’s the timeline of events:
APRIL 9 (US TIME)
US Navy issued a statement saying Admiral Harry Harris of the US Pacific Command has ordered the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered carrier, and its strike force – two destroyers and one cruiser – to leave Singapore on April 8 and sail to the Western Pacific Ocean.
As is customary, the Navy did not say exactly where the carrier force was headed or its precise mission. But US media quoted US officials as saying that the intended destination was the Sea of Japan, which is also known as East Sea.
A spokesman for the Pacific Command linked the move directly to North Korea’s “reckless, irresponsible and destabilising programme of missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability.”
But although the ships headed into the South China Sea, they didn’t continue north towards the Korean peninsula. It appears they instead began to head south, towards Indonesia.
North Korea’s foreign ministry said the approach of the US Navy strike group showed Washington’s “reckless moves for invading had reached a serious phase”.
“We will take the toughest counteraction against the provocateurs in order to defend ourselves by powerful force of arms and keep to the road chosen by ourselves,” an unidentified ministry spokesman said.
Mr Trump stoked the fears of military action with a Twitter post: “North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.”
Pentagon chief Jim Mattis sought to calm fears, saying the deployment was part of routine naval operations and not a show of force aimed at Pyongyang.
“There’s not a specific demand signal or specific reason why we’re sending her up there,” Mr Mattis told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon.
“She’s just on her way up there because that’s where we thought it was most prudent to have her at this time,” he added.
In an interview with Fox News Business, US President Donald Trump said he was sending an “armada” to North Korea.
“Very powerful, we have submarines, very powerful, far more powerful than the aircraft carrier, that I can tell you,” he told the programme.
But US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters during a visit to Moscow that the carrier’s deployment was routine and it had “no particular objective.”
“I would not read anything into the Carl Vinson’s current locations,” he added.
The US Navy posted photos on its website of the USS Carl Vinson in the South China Sea, on what it described as a “regularly scheduled Western Pacific deployment.”
North Korea celebrated the Day of the Sun, an annual event commemorating the birth of the country’s founder Kim Il Sung. Many observers expected a nuclear test or missile launch to mark the occasion, but none was carried out.
During a massive parade in the capital, however, North Korea displayed what appeared to be new long-range and submarine-based missiles.
According to photos posted by the US Navy on its website, the strike group was transiting the Sunda Strait off the coast of Indonesia.
The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) transiting the Sunda Strait between the Indonesian Islands of Java and Sumatra on April 15, 2017.
Defense News, a trade publication, noted the discrepancy in the US officials’ statements and the US Navy post on the ships passing Sunda Strait. It broke the news that the ships were more than 5,000 kilometres from where most of the world thought it was.
The US Pacific Command said in a statement that military exercises with the Australian Navy in the Indian Ocean have been completed.
The exercises were held for four days, ABC News reported.
“After departing Singapore on April 8 and cancelling 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. The Carl Vinson Strike Group is heading north to the Western Pacific as a prudent measure,” the US Pacific Command spokesman said.
Senior Trump administration officials blamed a miscommunication between the Pentagon and the White House for earlier incorrect reports that the USS Vinson was already on its way to the Korean peninsula.
Officials said there had been a lack of follow-up with commanders overseeing the aircraft carrier’s movements.
Meanwhile, Rear Admiral Jim Kilby, who heads the Vinson strike group, wrote on Facebook that the ships’ deployment “has been extended 30 days to provide a persistent presence in the waters off the Korean Peninsula.”
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis tried to clear the confusion, telling reporters during a visit to Saudi Arabia that the Pentagon had tried to be open about the Vinson’s whereabouts.
He said: “We generally don’t give out ship schedules in advance but I didn’t want to play a game either and say we were not changing a schedule when in fact we had. So were doing exactly what we said we were going to do, she will be on her way and I’ll 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.”
The Vinson and its carrier group will arrive off the Korean Peninsula by the end of the month, US defence officials have said.
Some reports say it may arrive by April 25, as North Korea marks the anniversary of its army’s founding. Some analysts have warned that the North might try to celebrate the occasion with a major provocation.
SOURCES: CNN, WASHINGTON POST, NYTIMES, ABC NEWS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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