The U.S. Navy plans to send a ship to within 12 nautical miles of disputed islands in the South China Sea, a U.S. official confirmed to Fox News — in an apparent challenge to Beijing’s territorial claims. Reuters first reported that the Navy planned within 24 hours to send a destroyer near the Spratly Islands, an archipelago that China aggressively has laid claim to by building airstrips and other features on top of reefs. Reuters reported that the ship probably would be joined by a surveillance plane.

U.S. military officials were angry over the leak, but one official reluctantly confirmed the plans. Officials said the USS Lassen, a Navy destroyer, would be the closest ship in position to carry out the operation. Asked for comment at Monday’s briefing, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest would not confirm any operational decisions. But he stressed that ensuring freedom of navigation is critically important to a global economy — and said that is the principle that’s at stake. FULL REPORT