Search for Troops Is 'in Vain,' Insurgents Declare

Marines patrol in Anbar province near Fallujah. Elsewhere in Iraq, the hunt continued for three U.S. soldiers who disappeared Saturday near Mahmudiyah after they were attacked. The military also reported the deaths of six troops.
Marines patrol in Anbar province near Fallujah. Elsewhere in Iraq, the hunt continued for three U.S. soldiers who disappeared Saturday near Mahmudiyah after they were attacked. The military also reported the deaths of six troops. (By Joe Raedle -- Getty Images)

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By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, May 15, 2007

BAGHDAD, May 14 -- As a massive hunt for three missing American soldiers continued into its third day on Monday, a front group for al-Qaeda in Iraq that claims to have captured them warned the U.S. military to stop searching, calling it "a venture in vain." The group suggested the abductions were to avenge the rape and killing of a 14-year-old girl in the same area and abuses committed by U.S. troops at Abu Ghraib and other prisons.

"We say to you that what search for your soldiers you may do will not lead you to anything except fatigue, and setbacks for you. Your soldiers are firmly in our hands," the Islamic State of Iraq said in a statement posted on insurgent Web sites.

"Remember what you had done in this area, when you violated our sister Abeer," the statement added, referring to Abeer Qassim al-Janabi. Five soldiers were charged in the March 2006 murders of Abeer, her parents and her younger sister. Three soldiers have pleaded guilty in the case.

Also Monday, six U.S. soldiers died in Iraq, the U.S. military reported. Four were killed in three attacks in Baghdad and southeast of the capital, and one in Anbar. The sixth soldier died of noncombat causes, the military said.

U.S. military officials also said Monday for the first time that they believed that fighters linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq had kidnapped the three soldiers.

"At this time, we believe they were abducted by terrorists belonging to al-Qaeda or an affiliated group and this assessment is based on highly credible intelligence information," Maj. Gen William B. Caldwell, the military's top spokesman, said in a statement.

The soldiers disappeared after a pre-dawn ambush on their patrol Saturday, 12 miles west of the town of Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad, that killed four U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi army interpreter. The farming region, dubbed the Triangle of Death, is known to be infiltrated by fighters from al-Qaeda in Iraq and Sunni insurgents.

The Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group of Sunni insurgents said to have been created by al-Qaeda in Iraq, asserted Sunday that it had abducted the soldiers, but has yet to show proof.

If true, the abduction would underscore the growing vulnerability of U.S. troops as a recent counterinsurgency security offensive attempts to bring stability to Baghdad and other parts of Iraq.

On Monday, the U.S. military, in an unusual statement, provided more details of the incident, as well as an explanation of why it took U.S. patrols nearly an hour to reach the attack scene.

The seven U.S. soldiers and their Iraqi army interpreter, in two Humvees, were patrolling the area looking for insurgents planting roadside bombs, Caldwell said. At 4.44 a.m., other members of the unit positioned elsewhere heard an explosion. They attempted to contact their comrades, but got no response. They requested an aerial drone to assess the situation on the ground, Caldwell said. At 4:59 a.m., the drone reported back images of the two Humvees burning.

Two patrols were "immediately" dispatched to the scene, Caldwell said. But the first team encountered two roadside bombs, while the second found an additional roadside bomb, he said.


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