US aircraft carrier-led strike group headed toward Korean Peninsula

Story highlights

The move is in response to recent North Korean provocations, a US official says

Earlier this week, North Korea launched a Scud extended-range missile

CNN  — 

A US aircraft carrier-led strike group is headed toward the Western Pacific Ocean near the Korean Peninsula, a US defense official confirmed to CNN.

The move of the Vinson strike group is in response to recent North Korean provocations, the official said.

Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of US Pacific Command, directed the USS Carl Vinson strike group to sail north to the Western Pacific after departing Singapore on Saturday, Pacific Command announced. The group had been scheduled to go to Australia.

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It is not uncommon for aircraft carriers to operate in that area, and the United States regularly deploys military assets, such as aircraft, to the region as a show of force. In fact, the Vinson was in South Korea last month for military exercises.

Just days ago, North Korea launched a Scud extended-range missile, which US officials said exploded in flight. The regime also has recently conducted several missile engine tests as it works to improve its ballistic missile technology.

In September, North Korea says it successfully tested a nuclear warhead. Pyongyang claims it is pursuing nuclear weapons to defend itself from what it calls US aggression.

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News of the carrier move comes just after a summit meeting between US President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, where North Korea was one of the top items on the agenda.

“President Xi clearly understands, and – and I think agrees, that the situation has intensified and has reached a certain level of threat that action has to be taken,” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told CBS’ “Face the Nation” program on Sunday.

Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, told Fox News on Sunday that it was “prudent” to move the strike group near the Korean Peninsula because “North Korea has been engaged in a pattern of provocative behavior.”

McMaster said on “Fox News Sunday” that Xi and Trump agreed in their meetings that “it is unacceptable” for North Korea to be nuclear-capable and the Korean Peninsula must be denuclearized.

Earlier this year, China called on both North Korea and the US to tone down tension on the Korean Peninsula – North Korea by suspending its nuclear weapons program and the US by stopping military exercises with South Korea that inflame Pyongyang.

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Experts: North Korea missile program advancing

Days before the summit, Trump warned that the US was prepared to act unilaterally to stop North Korea’s nuclear program from advancing further should China be unwilling to use its leverage over Pyongyang.

But analysts say any unilateral military options for the US concerning North Korea posed significant problems.

While the US possesses overwhelming firepower compared to North Korea, an American strike on North Korea could expose South Korea to devastating casualties in retaliation, experts say.

Reuters first reported the move of the Vinson group.

The nuclear-powered, 97,000-ton Vinson, one of 10 active US aircraft carriers, has more than 60 aircraft and about 5,000 personnel. It is based in San Diego.

Sailing with the Vinson are the guided-missile destroyers USS Wayne E. Meyer and USS Michael Murphy and the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain, according to a statement from US Pacific Command.

The destroyers and the cruiser are equipped with the Aegis missile defense system. The US Navy has tracked previous North Korean missile launches with Aegis, which can shoot down ballistic missiles like those North Korea has been testing.

Another Aegis-equipped US warship drilled with similar vessels from the South Korean and Japanese navies off the Korean Peninsula last month in what the US Navy called “a trilateral missile warning informational link exercise.”

CNN’s Brad Lendon contributed to this report.
Correction: This story was updated to reflect the month North Korea claimed to have successfully tested a nuclear weapon.