Coalition forces may have narrowed the search for the missing soldiers missing since last Saturday’s attack
U.S. and Iraqi Security Forces, backed by the local tribes in Karbala and Anbar provinces, have poured into the region known as the Triangle of Death, where three U.S. soldiers were captured by al Qaeda in Iraq after a complex attack on a U.S patrol about 12 miles west of Mahmudiyah. The search appears to have been narrowed down to the region near where the attack took place last Saturday, and the U.S. military may have caught a break. Operations appear to be focused in the regions around Yusifiyah and Mahmudiyah, which largely consist of farmlands.
Multinational Forces Iraq stated it captured 11 suspected al Qaeda believed to be involved in the operation. Four are said to be “high value suspects,” which may have led to information on the soldier’s whereabouts. “Right now our focus is on searching for the missing soldiers, and we’re trying to isolate the areas where we think they could be,” said Major Kenny Mintz, the brigade operations officer for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. “The (captors) don’t have freedom of movement; if they have the soldiers, they can’t move them from where they are. We’re doing a deliberate search of the areas for the people responsible for the soldiers we’re looking for.”
The U.S has poured over 4,000 troops into the region, and are back by an unspecified number of Iraqi Army, police and tribal allies throughout eastern Anbar and Karbala. An American military intelligence source informed us the Anbar Salvation Council has devoted assets in the region and are working tribal and insurgent contacts to develop leads in the case. “Every asset has been brought to bear in the hunt for the missing troops,” according to a Multinational Forces Iraq press release, “including search dogs, trucks with speakers, unmanned aerial vehicles, law enforcement advisers, and both U.S. and Iraqi troops.” Pamphlets have been dropped via air and phone tip lines have been established.
While it was initially thought the al Qaeda assault and kidnap element would move the captured soldiers from the Mahmudiyah region into the desert expanses in eastern Anbar province, where al Qaeda maintains a base of support, the al Qaeda team appears to have stayed in the farming regions just south of Baghdad. Either al Qaeda never planned to move the soldiers far from the capture point, or the cordon was established quickly enough to have trapped the terrorists in the box. The U.S. and Iraqi Security Forces maintains a network of forward outposts in Mahmudiyah, Yusifiyah and Sadr al Yusifiyah which would make safe transit through these regions difficult.
Yusifiyah has been an al Qaeda stronghold in the past. Task Force 145 fought pitched battles against al Qaeda in the winter and spring of 2006, and nearly captured Abu Musab al Zarqawi before he was killed in Baqubah n June.
Al Qaeda in Iraq mocked the U.S. efforts to recover their soldiers, and stated the efforts may in fact endanger their lives. While al Qaeda has claimed it has captured the soldiers, it has yet to release photographs, video or audio to support the claim.
Al Qaeda will want to broadcast footage of the captured soldiers both to demoralize the U.S. public and to reap the rewards of a major propaganda coup. The U.S. will likely have Internet access locked down in the region to prevent the tape from being transmitted digitally, but an individual courier should eventually be able to slip the cordon. If the kidnap cell did not bring its own recording equipment, it will either push to a safe house to make the recording, or a team will press to reach it. Either act can lead to exposing the location of the soldiers. But their chances of survival decreases as soon as the tape is made.
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