USS Carl Vinson wasn't headed for North Korea when defense officials said it was

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) March 15, 2009 in the Indian Ocean
Getty Images

Photos released by the Navy show that an aircraft carrier group was very far away from the Korean Peninsula, where it was supposedly headed as a show of force.

As tensions mounted between the United States and North Korea, U.S. Pacific Command and members of the Trump administration said that the USS Carl Vinson would head north for the Western Pacific from Singapore, instead of Australia as previously planned.

But an image published by the Navy shows the aircraft carrier off the coast of Indonesia on Saturday, south of where the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group had departed, not north.

Later Tuesday, a representative for Pacific Command told NBC News that the ships cancelled port visits, as had been previously announced, but was also "able to complete a curtailed period of previously scheduled training with Australia in international waters off the northwest coast of Australia."

Trump's Korea strategy remains 'unclear'
Trump's Korea strategy remains 'unclear'

The New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing defense officials, that communication misfires fanned the incorrect statements that the warships were heading toward North Korea.

A Korean English-language newspaper, The Korea Herald, reported the fleet is now expected to arrive on April 25, later than defense officials had previously indicated.

Last Tuesday, Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters that the ship was "on her way up there because that's where we thought it was most prudent to have her at this time."

The redirection had sparked fears about a preemptive U.S. strike should North Korea conduct a nuclear weapons test.

A spokesman for Pacific Command previously said the fleet had been diverted "as a prudent measure to maintain readiness and presence" in the region. He added that North Korea remains the "number one threat in the region" amid "its reckless, irresponsible and destabilizing program of missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability."

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

— NBC News' Courtney Kube contributed reporting.

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