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Mali militia claims to have US Special Forces vehicle

Mali miilita claims it has US Special Forces vehicleA Malian militia said it had a sport utility vehicle abandoned by US Special Forces in neighbouring Niger during a deadly ambush last October and offered to return it to the United States.

Four US Special Forces members and at least four Nigerien soldiers were killed in the raid in the western Niger village of Tongo Tongo by militants armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Islamic State’s West Africa affiliate claimed responsibility.

The ambush marked the first US combat casualties in Niger. It sparked an international debate about America’s covert role tracking Islamist insurgents in the arid and thinly-populated Sahel region.

It also prompted discussion in the United States about military tactics used in remote battlefields. After the incident, President Donald Trump clashed publicly with a congresswoman who accused him of speaking insensitively to the pregnant widow of one of the dead American soldiers.

Colonel Mark Cheadle, a spokesman for the US military’s Africa Command, said it was investigating the statement by MSA-GATIA, a Tuareg militia group in northern Mali, but could not confirm its claim to have found the vehicle.

In the statement, accompanied by a photo of a beat-up blue Toyota Landcruiser and two military-style rifles, MSA-GATIA said it captured the material from unidentified “armed bandits” on the Mali side of the border with Niger in fighting on March 11 and 12.

“The MSA-GATIA coalition proposes returning this material to American authorities by legal channels,” the statement said.

The militia, mainly ethnic Tuaregs, frequently clashes with jihadist groups whose influence is on the rise in northern and central Mali.

The jihadists use Mali as a springboard for attacks into neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso, including raids on the military headquarters and French embassy in the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou earlier this month that killed eight people.

Those attacks alarm US officials, who fear the Sahel could become a new haven for Islamist militants and deployed American troops to train local forces and gather intelligence.