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STUTTGART, Germany — A U.S. military plane was struck by rifle fire last week in Mali while flying food and water to besieged Malian troops in the northern African nation.

The plane, an MC-130 based at RAF Mildenhall in England, was fired upon on Sept. 12 while flying the second of two missions to a military garrison in northeastern Mali.

The 40-ton plane returned to the capital of Bamako after sustaining minor fuselage damage, according to Maj. John Dorrian, a spokesman for the Stuttgart-based U.S. European Command.

No U.S. forces were wounded in the incident.

The plane’s crew did not return fire, Dorrian said.

Small-arms fire is unlikely to bring down a C-130, according to P.J. Crowley, a retired Air Force colonel and scholar at the Washington-based think tank, the Center for American Progress.

The aircraft has four engines.

The plane and its crew, which belong to the 67th Special Operations Squadron, were in Mali as part of a previously scheduled exercise called Flintlock 2007.

Malian troops had become surrounded at their base in the Tin-Zaouatene region near the Algerian border by armed fighters and couldn’t get supplies, Dorrian said.

As a result, the Mali government asked the U.S. forces to perform the airdrops, Dorrian said.

As of Monday, the Malian government had made no further requests for help.

Dorrian said he did not know the current status of the standoff.

“When the request came in, those forces were in place to support it,” Dorrian said.

“We don’t have a permanent troops-presence in Mali, though for quite some time we’ve done bilateral exercises and training events with Malian forces there,” he added.

The attackers were believed to be indigenous Taureg rebels who have been fighting for some years for a Taureg state separate from Mali and other bordering nations.

Al-Qaida was not believed to be involved in the attack, Dorrian said.

The U.S. military has for years stated that one of its primary goals when working in Africa was to help build the capabilities of nations to police and defend themselves.

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