Donald Trump's 'armada’ now heading for North Korea after initially going the wrong way

US President initially made announcement last week, leading to widespread confusion when photographs showed the warships steaming towards Australia

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The Independent US

Four United States warships are now heading towards North Korea, after a weekend stopover in Australia, US defence officials have said.

Donald Trump caused confusion by erroneously claiming the ‘armada’ was on its way to North Korea last week, when in fact the ships had been spotted steaming in the opposite direction to take part in military exercises with the Australian Navy over 3,500 miles away.

But US Defence Secretary James Mattis said the USS Carl Vinson strike group was now proceeding towards the Western Pacific, to go on stand-by in the Sea of Japan.

Seeking to clear up confusion on Wednesday, the Pentagon chief said he wanted “to be open about what we're doing”.

Speaking in Saudi Arabia, Mr Mattis said: “We're doing exactly what we said we're 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 is going to be part of our ensuring that we stand by our allies in the north-west Pacific.“

The confusion began on 9 April when the US Navy said the Carl Vinson strike group was travelling from Singapore to the Western Pacific.

Two days later, the President told Fox Business he was sending an armada towards the peninsula in a "show of force".

“We are sending an armada. Very powerful. We have submarines. Very powerful, far more powerful than the aircraft carrier, that I can tell you,” Mr Trump told the television station.

Donald Trump's 'armada' steams on as North Korea warns of nuclear strike on US

White House press Secretary Sean Spicer explained that having the flotilla in the Sea of Japan within striking distance of Pyongyang gave President Trump “options in the region.” 

At the time, the comments from the US government heightened tensions with Pyongyang, with North Korea’s state news agency describing the supposed deployment as “nothing but a reckless action of aggression to aggravate the tensions in the region”.

State media warned of a nuclear attack on the United States at any sign of aggression, while Chinese President Xi Jinping called for a peaceful resolution of rising tensions in a telephone conversation with Mr Trump

But it later emerged that at the time the statement was made, the ships were not actually heading towards North Korea, but to a scheduled exercise in the Indian Ocean.

On Tuesday, White House officials said the statements had been based on information from the Defence Department, The New York Times reports.

But officials in the Defence Department then described a confused sequence of events leading up to the announcement of the direction of the “armada”.

With the President using the ships to bolster a muscular show of force, officials said that challenging the narrative became difficult.

The location of the flotilla was revealed by the US Navy itself, which posted a photo online of the aircraft carrier passing through the Sundra Strait between Sumatra and Java in Indonesia.

The photograph was taken four days after Mr Spicer had said the ships were on the move towards the Sea of Japan.

Todd Weiler, the former Assistant Secretary of Defence for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, told The Independent on Wednesday that the catalogue of errors could be due to a lack of political leadership within the Pentagon. 

Or it could be a problem with the way the White House interprets facts. 

“The Navy would never have said or suggested” the USS Vinson was to arrive in the Sea of Japan “without knowing”, Mr Weiler said.

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