A U.S. aircraft carrier was heading away from the Sea of Japan last week when the White House announced it was moving toward the location, Defense News first reported.
The Navy announced on April 9 that its Carl Vinson Strike Group would skip a regularly scheduled visit to Australia and head toward the western Pacific Ocean, a move the White House later said was meant as a deterrent to North Korea's recent provocations.
But as The New York Times noted Tuesday, the Navy posted a picture taken April 15 showing the strike force in the Sunda Strait, an area off the coast of Indonesia and thousands of miles from North Korea.
Public comments from administration officials at the time appeared to contradict each other over the point of sending the strike group toward the Korean Peninsula.
Asked about the decision to send those ships to North Korea during a White House press briefing last week, press secretary Sean Spicer framed the move as a deterrent.
"A carrier group is several things. 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," he said.
"But 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. So I think it serves multiple capabilities.
But during a press briefing that same day, Defense Secretary James Mattis cautioned against reading into any "specific reason" for the move.
"There's not a specific demand signal or specific reason we are sending her up there," Mattis said of the Vinson.
"She’s stationed there in the western Pacific for a reason. She operates freely up and down the Pacific, and she’s just on her way up there because that’s where we thought it was most prudent to have her at this time."
Administration officials described to the Times what the paper referred to as a "glitch-ridden sequence of events ... [that] perpetuated the false narrative that an American armada was racing toward the waters off North Korea."
The Defense Department told the Times that the Carl Vinson is now headed for Korea and will arrive in the area next week.
Ellen Mitchell contributed. Updated at 4:05 p.m.