Carrier Confusion Stemmed from "Lack of Follow-Up"
Last week, top national security officials told the press that the carrier Carl Vinson had been dispatched to the Sea of Japan during a period of peak tensions with North Korea – a "show of force" to demonstrate resolve in the face of Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. Instead, the Vinson sailed south from Singapore into the Indian Ocean, where she participated in a scheduled exercise with the Australian Navy. News of her itinerary has raised questions about the timeline of her orders and the statements released by the White House.
Accounts from Washington varied, but most suggested some form of miscommunication. On Wednesday, a senior administration official told CNN that the confusion over the Vinson's timetable arose from a "lack of follow-up with commanders overseeing the movements" of the carrier. Separately, a defense official suggested to the Washington Post that the problem may have started with a statement from U.S. Pacific Command that "could have been worded a little more clearly." (The statement appeared to suggest an imminent redeployment to the Western Pacific.) However, White House press secretary Sean Spicer emphasized that last week's many announcements regarding the Vinson’s destination were all true – she just hadn't departed yet.
The carrier and her escorts are now expected to arrive off the Korean Peninsula sometime next week, where they will join South Korean naval units for a series of drills. Her five-month deployment has been extended for another thirty days "to provide a persistent presence in the Waters [sic] off the Korean Peninusla," according to a Facebook message posted by CSG-1 Commander Rear Adm. Jim Kilby. The extended tour is intended to "reassure allies and our partners of our steadfast commitment to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region."
On the sidelines of a diplomatic visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Secretary of Defense James Mattis told reporters that the Vinson's itinerary was in line with his previous statements. "The bottom line is in our effort to always be open about what we were doing we said that we that we were going to change the Vinson’s upcoming schedule. The Vinson, as I said on the record, was operating up and down the Western Pacific and we were doing exactly what we said. That is, we were shifting her."