Missing Soldiers Found Dead In Iraq

Thomas Lowell Tucker, Kristian Menchaca
Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, left, 25, of Madras, Ore., and Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston were apparently kidnapped following an attack by Iraqi insurgents outside the town of Yusufiyah, south of Baghdad.
By Jonathan Finer and Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

BAGHDAD, June 20 -- Two U.S. soldiers, missing for three days since their abduction in an insurgent stronghold south of Baghdad, were found dead, a military spokesman said Tuesday, and a top U.S. commander ordered an investigation into why the men were isolated from a larger force in such a dangerous part of Iraq.

The remains of the soldiers -- Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore. -- were recovered near a power plant in the town of Yusufiya, where they had been operating a vehicle checkpoint that came under attack Friday, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said in a briefing for reporters. A third soldier, Spec. David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., died in the initial assault.

"Coalition forces have in fact recovered what we believe to be the remains of our two soldiers," Caldwell said. "Our heartfelt prayers go out to both the families and friends of our two soldiers."

Caldwell declined to describe the condition of the soldiers' bodies, saying it would be "inappropriate until I know what the families were told." He said it was clear that the soldiers had died of wounds suffered in captivity, rather than at the site of the attack on the checkpoint, but that the cause of death could not be immediately determined.

According to residents of Yusufiya and a relative of one of the victims, the soldiers were beheaded. An Iraqi official said they had been brutally tortured before their death, but provided no further details.

The bodies will be flown to Kuwait and then to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for full autopsies and DNA testing to ensure they were identified correctly, the military said in a statement.

As 8,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops scoured the region, a tip from a local resident led them to the soldiers' bodies after dark Monday. Because the informant warned that the bodies were booby-trapped, they were not removed until after dawn Tuesday, the military said.

"We went ahead and established a cordon around the area to protect it so it would be undisturbed at daylight this morning and brought the necessary assets like explosive ordnances," Caldwell said. "They did have to dismantle some stuff to get to them."

One U.S. soldier was killed and 12 wounded during the three-day search across a vast area south of Baghdad, while two insurgents were killed and 78 detained, the military said.

The killings of the two privates raised questions about why such low-ranking troops were left alone, backed by a single armored Humvee, in a region Caldwell described Thursday as "an insurgent hotbed" and the most dangerous place in Iraq for U.S. forces after Baghdad and Ramadi. Even in safer areas, U.S. troops generally travel in convoys to provide support in case insurgents attack or a vehicle breaks down.

Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, has ordered an investigation into procedures used that night. "They are looking at the entire situation," Caldwell said.

To the consternation of U.S. officials, who are careful to withhold casualty details until the soldiers' families can be notified, the deaths were first reported by an Iraqi defense official. Maj. Gen. Abdul Aziz Muhammed Jassim said in a news conference Tuesday they had been tortured and killed "in a barbaric way."

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