Militia fighters stole hundreds of American-supplied automatic weapons and other equipment in a raid on a Libyan base where the US was training local forces, bringing an abrupt end to the secretive program, a report said Tuesday.

Elite US troops have been tasked since last year with covertly forming local counterterrorism units in Libya, Mauritania, Niger and Mali, part of US efforts to widen the war against al-Qaida affiliates in Africa, The New York Times reported, citing American officials.

It has been financed in part with millions of dollars in classified Pentagon spending, the Times said, and involves instructing and equipping “handpicked” commandos in the four countries, with the hope the teams will eventually be able to take on fighters like Boko Haram. […]