Bloodbath in Iraq continues
Search for Missing 2 American Soldiers Widens
By RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr. and JOHN O'NEIL
Published: June 19, 2006
BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 18 — The American military today identified the two soldiers who are missing and reportedly held captive by insurgents, and said that seven soldiers had been wounded while conducting a search for them that has expanded far beyond the town where the servicemen were attacked on Friday night.
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Go to Complete Coverage Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the spokesman for the American military, said in a statement that 8,000 American and Iraqi troops were now involved in the search, and that 12 villages had been cordoned off. Three insurgents have been killed and 34 suspects detained during the operation, which has involved eight air assaults and support from a variety of aircraft, including unmanned drones, as well as a team of divers working in the Euphrates River, he said.
General Caldwell identified the missing soldiers as Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, and Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore. Mr. Tucker's family was not available for comment, according to a military spokesman who answered the phone at the family's home.
One soldier died during the incident on Friday, which witnesses described as a coordinated attack. General Caldwell identified him as David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass.
Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of the two American soldiers in an Internet posting, according to news services.
General Caldwell did not comment on the possibility that the two soldiers were being held captive after being seized in the incident. In his statement, he continued to describe the soldiers as "duty status and whereabouts unknown."
American troops searching for the missing soldiers ringed Ramadi with new checkpoints and outposts over the weekend, in an effort to break the grip that insurgents hold on that city. Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province, has been the scene of some of the fiercest battles between United States troops and insurgent fighters.
Some Sunni Arab leaders have said they are worried that American forces may be preparing an offensive in Ramadi meant to wipe out the insurgent groups that have taken control of much of the city, similar to the November 2004 assault on Falluja by the Marines.
An American military official in Baghdad said on Sunday that no such offensive was planned. "We're trying to separate the insurgents from the rest of the people," the official said. "There are a lot of rumors flying around that people think it's another Falluja. It's not."
A spokesman for the Marines, Lt. Col. Bryan F. Salas, described the activity as "part of a long-term plan to restore stability to Ramadi," and said it involved troops from one American brigade and two Iraqi brigades.
"We are focusing on multiple sites used by the insurgents to plan and conduct terrorist attacks and store weapons," Colonel Salas said in an e-mail message. "We have also set up additional checkpoints to restrict the flow of insurgents, but citizens will still be able to enter and leave the city."
Nearly 10,000 Ramadi residents, or about 1,500 families, have fled the city, according to a report on Sunday by Integrated Regional Information Networks, a news service that is part of the United Nations office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs but is editorially independent.
An Associated Press report from a correspondent with the military in Ramadi quoted an American commander as saying that the number who had fled was "not anywhere approaching a thousand." The report said the military operation there involved thousands of Iraqi and American troops, who used armored vehicles to surround southern Ramadi in an effort to block supplies from reaching insurgents within the city.
On the CNN program "Late Edition," the Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said Sunday that the two soldiers reported missing in Yusufiya had been "taken prisoner by a group of insurgents."
Residents in Yusufiya, south of the capital, said they saw insurgents capture the two soldiers after the Americans were attacked on Friday evening at a checkpoint south of town. General Caldwell said today that the search involved "every means at our disposal," and it appeared to be the largest such operation undertaken in the course of the war. "We will never stop looking for our service members until their status is definitively determined," he said.
In Baghdad today, four people were killed when a bomb went off near an Iraqi army patrol in Palestine Street, and four people were killed in drive-by shootings, the authorities said.
On Sunday gunmen abducted 10 employees from a bakery in the Shiite neighborhood of Kadhimiya, the Interior Ministry said. A witness said gunmen drove up in cars and marched the bakers out, including the owner, as customers watched. The witness, who lives nearby, said the bakers were Shiite, but ethnically Kurdish.
The Iraqi police found nine bodies around Baghdad on Sunday, the latest victims in the sectarian violence that has racked the capital. All of the victims were handcuffed, shot in the head and showed signs of torture, according to the Interior Ministry.
Richard A. Oppel Jr. reported for this article from Baghdad and John O'Neil from New York. Sabrina Tavernise, Hosham Hussein and Khalid al-Ansary contributed reporting for this article from Baghdad and Christine Hauser contributed reporting from New York..
Last edited by DriveByPoster; 06-19-2006 at 08:36 AM.