The US Navy has sent a carrier-led strike group toward the western Pacific Ocean to provide a physical presence near the Korean Peninsula in a show of force against North Korea’s “destabilizing” nuclear weapons program and looming missile tests.
“US Pacific Command ordered the Carl Vinson Strike Group north as a prudent measure to maintain readiness and presence in the Western Pacific,” Commander Dave Benham, spokesman at US Pacific Command, told AFP.
“The number one threat in the region continues to be North Korea, due to its reckless, irresponsible and destabilizing program of missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability,” he added.
National Security Advisor HR McMaster said on Sunday that sending the group is a “prudent” move, since North Korea “is a rogue regime that is now a nuclear-capable regime.”
Deployed from San Diego to the western Pacific since early January, the strike group has been involved in numerous drills with Japan and South Korea and routine patrol operations in the disputed South China Sea. It is now headed from Singapore to the Western Pacific Ocean, scrapping planned port visits to Australia.
Retired four-star US General Jack Keane said earlier this week that in the wake of recent nuclear missile tests conducted by North Korea, bombing the country’s nuclear facilities “may be the only option left.”
Keane told Fox News that if the US was facing an imminent attack from a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), US President Donald Trump would have to act preemptively. “We’re rapidly and dangerously heading towards the reality that the military option is the only one left when it comes to getting North Korea to denuclearize,” Keane told Fox News.
Last month, Trump accused North Korea of “behaving very badly” and “playing” the US for years.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also told reporters during his visit to South Korea that Washington’s “policy of strategic patience has ended,” noting that “all options are on the table.”
Viktor Ozerov, head of the defense affairs committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament, warned on Sunday that there’s a high risk of a US missile strike on North Korea’s military facilities.
The US president could make the move due to the absence of unanimous condemnation from the UN Security Council of the US missile attack on Syria, Ozerov said.
On Friday, the US carried out a missile strike on the Shayrat airfield near Homs in response to an alleged chemical attack on a rebel-held town in Idlib province, the blame for which Washington pinned on Syrian President Bashar Assad.
A total of 59 Tomahawk missiles were deployed in the pre-dawn attack. The Russian Defense Ministry noted on Saturday that Washington has presented no evidence yet that the Shayrat airfield had any chemical weapons.
Syrian officials have so far confirmed that six people were killed and several others wounded in the operation.
“The US attack on the airfield of the Syrian Armed Forces, which was not unanimously condemned by the UN Security Council, was explained by the threat of US national security. North Korea can be perceived by Washington as an even greater threat,” Ozerov told RIA Novosti.
On Saturday, North Korea lambasted the US strike, saying it was “an unforgivable act of aggression” that also proved that Pyongyang’s decision to develop nuclear weapons was “the right choice a million times over.”
“The US missile attack against Syria is a clear and unforgivable act of aggression against a sovereign state and we strongly condemn this,” KCNA quoted an unnamed spokesman for the North Korean Foreign Ministry as saying.
“The reality of today proves our decision to strengthen our military power to stand against force with force was the right choice a million times over,” KCNA said. On Wednesday, Pyongyang fired a medium-range ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan, drawing strong condemnation from Tokyo and Seoul.
Last month, North Korea, believed to be working toward developing a long-range missile capable of hitting the US mainland with a nuclear warhead, successfully fired four ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan, three of which reached Japan’s territorial waters.