Seven days of searching in the Triangle of Death and beyond [Updated]

A soldier from the 101st Airborne searches for enemy activity on a highway near Mahmudiyah in early May. Click to view.

Nine detained in involvement of kidnapped soldiers, General Petraeus says information exists that two of the soldiers are alive

Seven days after al Qaeda in Iraq conducted a complex attack against an Army squad patroling the region west of Mahmudiyah, which resulted in 4 soldiers and an interpreter killed and 3 soldiers kidnapped, the search continues in the Triangle of death, and beyond. Nine suspects in the kidnapping of the soldiers have been detained in the search over the past 24 hours in the Amiriya region in eastern Anbar province, as General Petraeus stated that at least two of the soldiers may be alive and there is good intelligence on who conducted the attack and kidnapping.

The Amiriya region, which is about 25 miles northwest of the Triangle of Death in the eastern regions of Anbar province, has been a hotbed of al Qaeda and allied insurgent activity. It was initially thought the kidnappers would travel to this region, and Marines had set up road blocks and checkpoints in the area immediately after the report of the capture last Saturday. A Marine led operation was reported in “Zaidon and across the river from Amiriya” days after the search began.

The Albu Issa tribe dominates the Amiriya region, and the tribe is split between pro-government elements which largely dominate the urbanized areas and the pro al Qaeda elements which rule in the rural regions. The pro government Albu Issa provide police to patrol in Amiriya, and a large segment of the Fallujah police force is made up of Albu Issa. The pro al Qaeda Albu Issa as well as the Zuba’a from Zaidon have close tribal ties to the Karbuli (or Quarghuli) tribe that is dominant in the region where the troops were kidnapped. An American military intelligence source informed us the Karbuli tribe is one of the original “Sinister Six” tribes which signed on to al Qaeda’s political front, the Islamic State of Iraq, which also includes the Albu Issa, Zuba’a, and the Albu Fahd tribes. The Albu Fahd have rejected al Qaeda’s Islamic State, while the Albu Issa has been split.

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, including a Stryker battalion, 2 aviation battalions and an Iraq Special Operations Forces battalion. Al together over 4,000 U.S. and 2,000 Iraqi troops have been assigned to the search operation. Task Force 145, the hunter killer special operations teams assigned to target al Qaeda’s network, has very likely been added to the mix.

The New York Times details the difficulties in conducting the search in the Mahmudiyah – Yusifiyah region. Shaun Mullen provides additional background on the insurgency in the Triangle of Death.The local population is either hostile to Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces, or is passive to the insurgency. While many tips have been received, most have led to dead ends, or appear to have been diversions. One tip led to the draining of a canal in the farmlands, another led to the digging up of an Iraqi grave. But some tips have led to concrete information, including the capture of two of the participants in the attack.

The widening of the search beyond the Triangle of Death region may be a sign the U.S. military is unsure of the location of the missing soldiers. On May 15, we noted the chances of the soldiers’ survival decreases as soon as a propaganda tape is produced and released. One week has passed since the attack and kidnapping, and al Qaeda in Iraq has yet to issue a propaganda tape – either audio or video – to demonstrate the captured the soldiers are alive and in custody. But information has been uncovered that leads Multinational Forces Iraq to believe the soldiers are still alive.

In an interview with the Army Times’ Sean Naylor, General David Petraeus stated he has information on who conducted the attack and kidnapping, and that at least two of the missing soldiers are believed to be alive:

“We know who that guy is [who was behind the attack]… He’s sort of an affiliate of al-Qaida. He’s the big player down in that area. We’ve tangled with him before… Somebody’s given us the names of all the guys that participated in it and told us how they did it, and all the rest of that stuff… Now, we have to verify that at some point in time, but it sounds spot on. We’ve had all kinds of tips down there. … We just tragically haven’t found the individuals. But on the other hand, they haven’t been able to smuggle out, at least to my knowledge, the traditional video… As of this morning, we thought there were at least two that were probably still alive… At one point in time there was a sense that one of them might have died, but again we just don’t know.”

Multinational Forces is still operating on the assumption the soldiers are alive, and the current operations in Amiriya are being driven by intelligence.

Previous reports:

May 12, 2007

Five soldiers killed, 3 kidnapped near Mahmudiyah

Al Qaeda attackers said to be moving towards Fallujah

May 15, 2007

Report: Closing in on Al Qaeda in the Triangle

Coalition forces may have narrowed the search for the missing soldiers missing since last Saturday’s attack

May 16, 2007

Iraq Report: More on the Search

Two high value targets detained

May 17, 2007

The search in the Triangle of Death continues

U.S. and Iraqi forces continue to scour the farming regions around Yusifiyah and Mahmudiyah in an effort to recover its 3 missing soldiers

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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1 Comment

  • Lisa in DC says:

    Bill,
    It was great to meet you at the Milblog Conference, and I’ll echo what I said there – thanks for the dedicated research and reporting. It is especially appreciated at times like this. When I want to know what’s going on, plus get some context, I come over here.

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