Japanese destroyers join US strike group amid tensions on Korean Peninsula
Two Japanese Navy destroyers have joined the carrier strike group ‘USS Carl Vinson’ heading towards the Korean Peninsula for a massive show of force as North Korea prepares to mark the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its military.
The Japanese warships, destroyers ‘Ashigara’ and ‘Samidare’, left the navy’s Sasebo base early on Friday for a rendezvous with the ‘USS Carl Vinson’ group off North Korean shores, NHK reports.
Defense Ministry officials said the details of the joint US-Japan naval exercise are yet to be determined. The drill comes as an apparent show of force aimed at deterring North Korea, which will mark the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its military next week.
Though little is known about the naval exercise, the event was announced by the Japanese Navy earlier last week.
“Japan wants to dispatch several destroyers as the ‘Carl Vinson’ enters the East China Sea,” said one of the Japanese military sources, as cited by Reuters.
The source added that the drills would involve helicopter landings on both American and Japanese ships as well as communications training.
The American strike group includes Nimitz-class aircraft carrier ‘USS Carl Vinson’ with her air wing, Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers ‘USS Wayne E. Meyer’ and ‘USS Michael Murphy’, as well as Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser ‘USS Lake Champlain’.
The strike group will operate in the region under the operational control of the 3rd Fleet as part of the 3rd Fleet Forward initiative, according to the US Navy.
Its arrival to the Western Pacific was marked by a string of conflicting statements from the White House and the Pentagon. Last week, US President Donald Trump told Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo that “we are sending an armada, very powerful. We have submarines, very powerful – far more powerful than the aircraft carrier.”
The news, however, was downplayed by US military officials after it emerged that the strike group was heading to Australia instead of the Korean Peninsula. Some American media reported that the USS Carl Vinson and her escort ships were operating near Indonesia.
Earlier this week, a senior White House official accused the military of misleading the president and his team about the deployment of the ‘Carl Vinson’, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Defense Secretary James Mattis provided a rather vague statement, saying: “The Vinson, as I’ve said on the record, was operating up and down the western Pacific … And that is, we’re shifting her, instead of continuing one direction as she pulled out of Singapore she’s going to continue part of our cruise down in that region, but she was on her way up to Korea.”
The latest flare-up in tension between the US and North Korea has been triggered by reports that the state was about to conduct its sixth nuclear test or fire a nuclear-capable ballistic missile. Washington threatened to solve the ‘North Korean problem’ unilaterally, arguing that Pyongyang poses a threat to US interests in the region.
North Korea said it was ready to defend itself with all means available, including weapons of mass destruction. In a series of extraordinary statements, China, North Korea’s main trading partner and ally, warned that the region was on the brink of an all-out war.
Russia, which shares a land border with the hermit state, urged all parties to refrain from the use of military force.