MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) _ Canadian air force fighters strafed an Iraqi patrol boat with machine-gun fire and launched a missile Wednesday in the first combat seen by Canadian troops in the gulf, military officials said.

The missile missed its target, said Col. David Bartram, chief of staff of Canadian forces in the gulf.

Bartram said the attack began before dawn when Canadian CF-18 fighters were flying defensive operations in the northern gulf. He said they spotted two U.S. warplanes attacking an Iraqi patrol boat that appeared to be armed with Exocet anti-ship missiles.

He said the American jets broke off the strike after they ran low on fuel and the two Canadian CF-18 fighters took over. They strafed the patrol boat and fired a missile at the craft, Bartram said.

The missile missed its target but the bullets hit the craft before it sped away, he said. Low fuel also forced the Canadians to halt their assault, Bartram added.

Canada began taking part in combat operations last week when its jets flew ''sweep and escort'' operations for allied fighter bombers attacking Iraqi targets.

Bartram said Wednesday's attack was the first time Canadian forces had been involved in fighting.

''We're relieved to finally see some action,'' one Canadian officer said. ''Soldiers don't really like to fight, but if everybody else is doing it, you naturally want to participate.''

Canada's forces include the destroyers Athabaskan and Terra Nova and a supply ship, the Protecteur. They have 934 crewmen.

It also includes 26 Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 fighter jets, and about 600 airmen and ground crew from the 1st Air Division based at Baden-Sollingen, Germany.