a U.S. Army Blackhawk drops reward leaflets over Owesat Village on May 14 [U.S. Army photo]. Click to view.
U.S. and Iraqi forces continue to scour the farming regions around Yusifiyah and Mahmudiyah in an effort to recover its 3 missing soldiers
The search for the 3 missing U.S. soldiers enters its fifth day and the U.S. military pours more troops into the region south of Baghdad known as the Triangle of Death. The U.S. military has offered a $200,000 reward for information leading to the discovery of the U.S. soldiers, as significant resources have been diverted from Baghdad and Taji to assist with the search operations.
As we noted yesterday, the search has narrowed to the farming regions around Yusifiyah and Mahmadiyah, which have been divided up into 35 zones, of which 32 were searched. Some zones have been searched multiple times. Yesterday, commandos of the I Iraqi Special Operations Force (I SOF) captured 16 suspects during raids in the region after “acting on tips received from the local population.”
Yesterday, two suspects involved in the assault have been captured, a battalion commander involved in the search in the region told CNN’s Arwa Damon. “They do not appear to be al Qaeda members, the commander said. They told interrogators they were paid by a middle man to take part in the attack.” The suspects are said to be part of the Cargouli tribe [or Karbuli], “a Sunni tribe [which] dominates the area where many former intelligence agents, Baathists and Republican Guards from Saddam Hussein’s government live.” An American military intelligence official informed us the local tribes are being pressured to provide information on the location of the missing soldiers.
Multinational Forces Iraq and the Iraqi military have devoted significant resources to conduct this search. Reports indicate over 4,000 American and 2,000 Iraq troops have been tasked to the search. Elements of the I Iraqi Special Operations Force (I SOF) – likely a battalion – have been shifted to the region. Prior to this deployment, the I SOF has been assigned to target Mahdi Army cells in Sadr City in Baghdad. The 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Stryker Combat Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which was previously based in the Bayaa district in southern Baghdad, has also shifted to the region. Task Force 145 – the hunter killer teams assigned to dismantle al Qaeda’s leadership and networks – has no doubt been assigned to operate in the region.
Multinational Forces Iraq have also shifted two aviation battalions, – the 3rd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment [Blackhawk transport helicopters] and the 4th Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment [Apaches attack helicopters] from the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division based out of Taji. The Blackhawks may serve as transports for the I Iraqi SOF. The shift of the 1-23 Stryker Battalion a nd I Iraqi SOF will impact operations in Baghdad, while the movement of the 2 aviation regiments from Taji will impact operations in Salahadin and Diyala.
Prior to the search operation, the five battalions of the 4th Brigade of the 6th Iraqi Army Division have been forward deployed in outposts in Mahmudiyah, Yusifiyah, Lutifiyah and Shakriyah, along with an air assault battalion in FOB Kalsu in Iskandariyah. The 2nd Brigade of the U.S. 10th Mountain Division, augmented with the 2nd Battalion of the 69th Armored Regiment are also operating in the region. The units have been establishing smaller Combat Outposts in the region over the past six months to forward deploy forces.
Even with the influx of U.S. and Iraqi forces, the search seems to be focused on the region around the attack site. “They’re searching the area in the vicinity of where the attack occurred,” said Brigadier General Perry Wiggins in a Pentagon briefing yesterday, while refusing to get into details of the search location. But an anonymous Army source told us yesterday that the hunt for the missing soldiers has not been limited to the Triangle region alone. The regions south and east of Fallujah in Anbar province are also the focus of Coalition and Iraqi operations. “Things are pretty hot and heavy over in Zaidon and across the river from Amiriyah,” the soldier serving in Anbar province had noted yesterday. This is the region where al Qaeda maintains base of support, and where it was initially believed al Qaeda would transport the captives.
The Triangle of Death Region is one of the sore spots in the Baghdad belts, a region where al Qaeda and allied insurgent groups have established bases of operations to launch attack against targets in both Baghdad and Karbala provinces. U.S. and Iraq forces have been preparing to conduct operations in the region in support of the Baghdad Security Plan. The capture of the 3 American soldiers has forced Multinational Forces Iraq to change the time line and push forward operations south of Baghdad. The Triangle of Death is getting its surge early and hard, as the hunt for the soldiers is turning up intelligence on al Qaeda’s network in the region.