Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Search continues for missing American soldiers

(AP) -- U.S. soldiers raided suspected safehouses near the Euphrates River south of Baghdad on Monday in their search for three captured comrades but found them empty after the militants apparently were tipped off and fled, a military spokesman said. It was the latest in a series of frustrations for exhausted U.S. troops hunting for any sign of the trio missing since a May 12 assault on an outpost by insurgents linked to al-Qaida. Four other Americans and an Iraqi soldier died in the attack.
Maj. Webster Wright, a spokesman for the 10th Mountain Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, said 27 airborne operations had been staged during the widespread search the last nine days, dropping off soldiers to gain the element of surprise and avoid bomb-studded roads. But he said the insurgents were catching on to U.S. tactics and had fled ahead of raids near the river Monday.
He said planners were looking at targets to the west of the division's area of operations. He wasn't more specific, but that would likely include volatile Anbar province, a vast desert area that stretches to the borders of Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Anbar is considered a key smuggling route for insurgent groups including factions linked to al-Qaida.
Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of U.S. troops south of Baghdad, said in a CNN interview that 4,000 American soldiers and 2,000 Iraqis were involved in the search. He expressed "cautious optimism" that the three missing men - Pfc. Joseph J. Anzack Jr., 20, of Torrance, Calif.; Spc. Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass.; and Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich. - were still alive.
"We won't stop until we find our fallen comrades," he said, adding that the military was following up 249 intelligence reports, the majority of which said the three soldiers were still alive. "We're pursuing all leads with a passion, but right now we believe our soldiers are still alive," Lynch said. "Each day that passes when we don't see proof of life, it causes us concern." Lynch said more than 1,000 people had been detained for questioning, and two had confessed to taking part in the May 12 attack. "So they're giving us actual intelligence and we continue to follow through," he said.

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