Team Trump declared last week that it was sending North Korea a tough message when the US diverted an aircraft carrier strike force toward the Korean Peninsula — but the ships were actually thousands of miles away and heading in the opposite direction.
The White House on Tuesday blamed the Defense Department for the embarrassing debacle, according to The New York Times, which first reported the story.
The Defense Department blamed what turned out to be fake news by describing a series of foul-ups, including a “premature announcement of the deployment by the military’s Pacific Command to an erroneous explanation by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis,” the paper reported.
So while the administration announced that the armada was steaming toward the Sea of Japan as a deterrent to Kim Jong-un’s belligerence, it was 3,500 miles away in the Indian Ocean heading for joint maneuvers with the Australian Navy.
The White House announcement about the nuclear-armed strike force sparked fears across East Asia about a looming catastrophe – as rising tensions between the North and the US dominated the news.
Many feared the move signaled a preemptive strike, which President Trump had refused to rule out.
The mixup was revealed on Monday when the Navy posted a photo of the Carl Vinson sailing through the Sunda Strait separating the islands of Sumatra and Java in Indonesia.
The photo was taken on Saturday, days after Trump spokesman Sean Spicer touted the ships’ mission in the Sea of Japan.
“The forward deployment is deterrence, presence. It’s prudent. But it does a lot of things. It ensures our — we have the strategic capabilities, and it gives the President options in the region,” Spicer said on April 11.
“I think when you see a carrier group steaming into an area like that, the forward presence of that is clearly, through almost every instance, a huge deterrence.”
Trump fanned the flames with a Twitter post the same day.
“North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.,” he wrote.
The strike force has now been redirected and is heading toward the Korean Peninsula.
The White House would not comment on the gaffe, referring questions to the Pentagon.
“Sean discussed it once when asked, and it was all about process,” a spokesman, Michael Short, told the paper about the botched timetable.
Other sources said they were shocked that the Pentagon did not correct the narrative given that Spicer and National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster had made statements about the ships.
This article originally appeared on nypost.com.