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Carrier Vinson Deployment Extended Amid North Korean Tensions

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), right is moored pierside in Singapore, April 4, 2017. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Z.A. Landers)
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), right is moored pierside in Singapore, April 4, 2017. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Z.A. Landers)

The Carl Vinson carrier strike group will remain deployed forward 30 days longer than planned due to a requirement that the ships stand guard in the Western Pacific, strike group commander Rear Adm. Jim Kilby said in a message to the families of those deployed.

Posted late Wednesday on the Vinson's public Facebook page, Kilby's message said the deployment had been extended "to provide a persistent presence in the waters off the Korean Peninsula."

"While all of us look forward to being connected with our friends and families, our nation requires us to be its flexible force, the away team, and as we have done time and time again through history, we won't let her down now," he wrote.

The announcement comes amid some confusion. Navy officials announced April 9 that the Vinson was canceling planned port calls in Australia to return to the Western Pacific, ahead of what some believed might be a North Korean nuclear missile test in honor of the rogue nation's April 15 "Day of the Sun" national holiday.

But on Tuesday, Defense News reported that a publicly released photo showed the Vinson off the coast of Indonesia, about 3,500 miles away from the Korean Peninsula, and heading south, not north to its stated destination.

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.

President Donald Trump last week said he had sent "an armada -- very powerful" to North Korea to send a message about American resolve and intent. In an interview with CNN published Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence said the comments from the White House were not intentionally misleading.

But now it appears the strike group is headed to Korean waters, with intent to stay for some time.

"Our mission is to reassure allies and our partners of our steadfast commitment to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region," Kilby wrote in his message. "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."

The Vinson strike group deployed from its San Diego homeport Jan. 5. Carrier deployments are traditionally seven months long, though it is not uncommon to see them extended while underway due to operational requirements. The recently announced 30-day extension could mean the strike group is set to remain in the Western Pacific until July.

"The training leading up to deployment and on deployment has prepared us to be ready to respond to the call," Kilby wrote. "We are ready."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at@HopeSeck.