WASHINGTON — An aircraft carrier strike group that the Trump administration had said was headed toward North Korea in a powerful show of force has instead spent the past week thousands of miles away — and heading in the opposite direction.
Adm. Harry Harris, who heads U.S. Pacific Command, initially announced in a news release April 8 that he had directed the Carl Vinson carrier strike group to "sail north" from Singapore, adding that the ships were being diverted from planned port visits to Australia.
The Trump administration cited the deployment of the naval strike force, which includes the carrier and four warships, as a clear warning to North Korea, which was said to be planning a nuclear test last weekend in conjunction with a national holiday.
"We are sending an armada, very powerful," to the waters off Korea, President Donald Trump told Fox Business News on April 12.
A day earlier, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis told Pentagon reporters that the aircraft carrier was "on her way up there."
Some news organizations cited the armada's apparent race northward as a sign of a possible pre-emptive attack on North Korea, spurring global concerns of a possible war.
While the Pentagon sought to downplay those reports late last week, at no point did it or the White House suggest the Carl Vinson was not, in fact, nearing Korea to give Trump a more robust military option should he decide he needs one.
Pundits cited the warships' approach as evidence of Trump's muscular style days after he had ordered a cruise missile strike on Syria in response to a poison gas attack, and the Air Force had dropped the so-called "mother of all bombs" on an Islamic State stronghold in Afghanistan.
But on Saturday, a full week after the initial news release, the Navy posted a photograph showing the Carl Vinson transiting south through the Sunda Strait between the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java — about 3,500 miles southwest of the Korean Peninsula.
As Defense News first reported Monday, the strike force has been taking part in exercises with Australian forces in the Indian Ocean over the past week.
It is now — really — steaming northward and is expected to arrive in the Sea of Japan sometime next week, U.S. officials said.
It wasn't immediately clear if the mix-up was due to a deliberate attempt to psych out North Korea's leaders — or a false narrative that resulted from miscommunications up the chain of command.
On Sunday, North Korea attempted to test a ballistic missile, but it exploded seconds after launch.