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Carl Vinson carrier group is finally heading to North Korea, commander says

The U.S. aircraft carrier strike force that is finally steaming toward North Korea, more than a week after the White House said it was doing so, has had its deployment extended by a month.

Rear Adm. Jim Kilby, commander of the force, posted the news on a Facebook page used by the crew of the Carl Vinson and their families.

Kilby wrote that the 30-day extended tour was intended “to provide a persistent presence in the waters off the Korean peninsula.”

The strike force -- which includes the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, two guided-missile destroyers and a guided-missile cruiser -- was steaming north on Wednesday toward the Sea of Japan, officials said.

The warships' movements came under scrutiny after the Navy announced on April 8 that the group had been diverted from Singapore to the Western Pacific as the Trump administration sought to defuse a crisis with North Korea.

Over the next week, President Trump, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, national security advisor H.R. McMaster, White House spokesman Sean Spicer and other officials all spoke of the carrier's positioning as a dramatic show of force against Pyongyang.

On Tuesday, it became clear that the Carl Vinson was actually thousands of miles away in the Indian Ocean last week on joint exercises with the Australian navy and did not head north until after the weekend crisis with Pyongyang had passed.

The Navy posted a photograph showing the Carl Vinson still in the Sunda Strait, between the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java, about 3,500 miles south of the Korean peninsula. The photo was taken Saturday.

Spicer deflected all questions about the embarrassing episode at Wednesday's White House press briefing, insisting that the Trump administration was honest from the beginning.

“The president said we have an armada going to the peninsula," Spicer said. "That is a fact. It has happened; it is happening, rather."

“We said it was ‘heading’ there,” he said. “It is ‘heading’ there.”

In the Facebook post, Kilby did not indicate why the Pentagon did not correct administration officials who indicated that the Carl Vinson was near North Korea last weekend in response to the possibility that Pyongyang would conduct a sixth underground nuclear test or try to test launch an intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time.

North Korea held a massive military parade on Saturday to celebrate a major national holiday and conducted a midrange missile test Sunday that fizzled immediately after launch.

“Our mission is to reassure allies and our partners of our steadfast commitment to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region,” Kilby wrote.

“We will continue to be the centerpiece of visible maritime deterrence, providing our national command authority with flexible deterrent options, all domain access, and a visible forward presence.”

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