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U.S. B-52 bombers flew near disputed South China Sea islands

By Ryan Maass
U.S. B-52 bombers flew near disputed South China Sea islands
The U.S. B-52 strategic bombers were contacted by Chinese ground controllers, but the pilots were able to continue their mission. 5th Bomb Wing Public Affairs Photo by Airman 1st Class Andrew Crawford

WASHINGTON, Nov. 13 (UPI) -- Two U.S. B-52 bombers flew over disputed Chinese man-made islands in the South China Sea, U.S. military officials said.

The bombers flew within 12 nautical miles of the disputed Spratly Islands. At one point during the mission, the U.S. pilots were contacted by Chinese ground control operators, pressing them to stay away from the islands. Despite the warnings, the U.S. pilots continued their mission, resuming their flight, a U.S. government official told The Hill.

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"Both aircraft continued their mission without incident, and at all times operated fully in accordance with international law," Pentagon spokesman Navy Cmdr. Bill Urban said.

The bombers followed up on an earlier mission, which took place Sunday. During that mission, the bombers flew "in the area" of the Spratly Islands, but did not venture as close as they did Friday, The Guardian reported. Prior to that, a U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer USS Lassen sailed through the disputed seas, also approaching within 12 nautical miles of the Spratly Islands.

The flight marks a notable challenge to the Chinese government's territorial claims in the region, which came under further scrutiny when satellite images revealed the Spratly Islands were being used for military and arms development purposes in April.

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The Chinese government claims the majority of the South China Sea, which sees the passage of over $5 trillion in global trade annually. The claim is disputed by the governments of Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan.

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