USA officials came under fire following revelations that the group of ships led by the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson were thousands of miles away from Korea despite earlier statements suggesting they would be in the region to deter the North when tensions soared last weekend.
The US Pacific Command's spokesperson also told The Korea Herald by email that the Strike Group has completed a previously scheduled training with Australia and is "heading north to the Western Pacific" - without clarifying their specific destination. North Korea was about to test a missile, and the Trump administration was ratcheting up US rhetoric about a potential standoff.
The Vinson is accompanied by a destroyer ship with an Aegis combat system to track and intercept missiles.
Officials have said the strike group was set to participate in a joint exercise with Australian forces before heading toward Korean waters, in apparent contradiction to White House rhetoric.
However, The New York Times noted on Tuesday, that the Navy posted a picture dated April 15, showing the strike group in the Sunda Strait, an area thousands of miles away from North Korea off the coast of Indonesia.
Pence, whose visit started in South Korea the day after the failed launch by North Korea of what analysts said could have been a new missile, described the threat from the isolated regime as growing.
Sailing toward the Indian Ocean meant that the strike group would be unavailable in the Korean Peninsula for another two weeks even as White House officials were saying that it had already headed for the peninsula.
"Our mission is to reassure allies and our partners of our steadfast commitment to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region", Kilby said. Though China has at times in its history conquered parts of the peninsula, they never fully occupied Korea, let alone annexed it into China.
The whereabouts of the US aircraft carrier have fueled speculations whether the earlier announcements were a mistake or an intentional attempt to cause confusion.
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), right is moored pierside in Singapore, April 4, 2017. "The forward deployment is deterrence, presence". But a week after the USA announced the carrier and its escorts would leave Singapore, forego port calls in Australia and instead return to Korean waters, the carrier and its group had yet to head north.
Beijing, long considered North Korea's last remaining ally, has stepped up its criticism of Pyongyang.
A North Korean missile exploded seconds after launch Sunday, according to USA officials.
He urged all parties to avoid "adding fuel to fire".
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