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US Plans First Carrier Visit to Vietnam Since End of War

In a show of strength to China, the U.S. is making arrangements to send an aircraft carrier to Danang, Vietnam, in March, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday.

It will be the first port visit by a carrier since the end of the Vietnam War.

"Thank you for the increasing partnership with our aircraft carrier coming into Danang here in March," Mattis said in Hanoi during a meeting with Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, The Associated Press reported.

Mattis had discussed the carrier visit earlier in closed-door meetings with Ngo Xuan Lich, Vietnam's minister of national defense, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

The SecDef did not name the carrier, but it would likely be the USS Carl Vinson, which left San Diego for the Western Pacific earlier this month accompanied by the guided missile cruiser Lake Champlain and the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers Wayne E. Meyer and Michael Murphy.

The only U.S. carrier permanently stationed in the Western Pacific -- the Ronald Reagan, based in Yokosuka, Japan -- is in the shipyards for repairs.

The Vinson, with 70 combat aircraft aboard, and its strike group are also expected to patrol waters off the Korean peninsula.

The announcement came during Mattis' first visit to Vietnam. The retired general joined the Marine Corps in 1969 but did not serve in Vietnam. He was also due to visit Indonesia on a trip that ends Friday.

The carrier visit grew out of talks last May at the White House between President Donald Trump and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on their concerns about China's actions to fortify islets in the South China Sea.

In August, Deputy Defense Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh became Vietnam's highest-ranking official to tour a U.S. carrier when he led a delegation to observe flight operations aboard the Vinson off California.

Mattis' visit to Vietnam comes days before the country's observance of the Tet lunar New Year, which will also mark the 50th anniversary of the Tet offensive by the North Vietnamese Army and the National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) that set off house-to-house fighting to retake the city of Hue.

The port visit would be the first by a U.S. carrier since the war, but other Navy ships have periodically visited Vietnam.

In 2016, the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer John S. McCain and the submarine tender Frank Cable stopped at Cam Ranh Bay, which was a huge logistics base during the war.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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