Mali militias say have US vehicle taken in Niger attack

Two Malian militia groups say they have recovered a US military vehicle and weapons that jihadist fighters seized after a deadly ambush of American special forces in neighbouring Niger in October.

The attack, which left four US troops dead, shed light on the scale of the US military presence in the Sahel and became a political issue in Washington.

The claim was made in a statement released on Wednesday by two armed groups, one of which in 2015 signed up to a peace deal with the Malian government pledging to join its fight against jihadists.

They said that in clashes with “the bandits,” their fighters had recovered “a car and weapons belonging to the US special forces.”

They want to return the equipment to the US authorities “by legal means,” said the statement, adding that the fighting took place “on March 11-12.”

It was issued by a group called GATIA, the acronym in French for the Imghad and Allies Touareg Self-Defence Force), which is pro-government, and the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad (MSA), comprising former rebels.

The US Africa Command (Africom), asked by AFP, said the Pentagon “is aware” of the claim.

“However, at this time cannot verify authenticity of the claims and are looking into it,” it said.

The October 4 attack occurred as a unit of 12 American special forces soldiers and 30 Nigerien troops returned from the village of Tongo Tongo, near the border with Mali.

They were attacked by a group of some 50 IS-affiliated fighters equipped with small arms, grenades and trucks mounted with guns.

Four Nigerien soldiers also died. The body of one US soldier, Sergeant La David Johnson, was not recovered until the following day.

The ambush was claimed by a group calling itself the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, led by Adnan Abu Walid Sahrawi, who has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State.

A nine-minute propaganda video by the jihadists showed US troops wearing only limited body armour, desperately seeking cover behind an unarmored SUV while coming under heavy fire.

It raised fresh questions as to the nature of the mission and why the soldiers had been left so vulnerable.

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