8,000 troops widen search for missing GIs
June 20, 2006
American military officials Monday named the two soldiers listed as missing after an insurgent attack on Friday and also announced that more than 8,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops are involved in a widening search that has become a top military priority in the country.
A third soldier was killed in the attack and was also identified by the Pentagon on Monday.
Pfc. Kristian Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker are both listed as “duty status whereabouts unknown,” while Spc. David J. Babineau was confirmed as killed in action. All three were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, officials said.
“We will never leave a fallen comrade,” said Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of the U.S. forces around Baghdad. “Make no doubt about it, the welfare and status of these two soldiers is our primary concern.”
The soldiers were manning a checkpoint near Youssifiyah, about 10 miles south of Baghdad, when they were attacked. Residents quoted by various news agencies have said the two soldiers were captured alive by a group of heavily armed insurgents, but the U.S. military has not commented on those reports.
On Monday, the main U.S. spokesman in Baghdad said the search — begun shortly after the 8 p.m. Friday incident — now includes ground forces, fixed wing aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, helicopters, rescue divers and boats. More than 12 “cordon and search” operations have been undertaken in area villages, along with eight air assault operations and 280 flight hours by search crews.
At least three suspected insurgents have been killed in the search, with 34 more taken into custody in what officials called “significant” clashes in the search area. Seven U.S. troops supporting the search have been wounded, Maj. Gen. Bill Caldwell said. American and Iraqi forces have received more than 63 tips in regards to the incident, officials said.
“We have surged intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms and employed planes, boats, helicopters and UAVs to ensure the most thorough search possible on the ground, in the air and in the water,” Caldwell said. “Words cannot express the sadness we feel at the loss of Spc. Babineau and the uncertainty the families of Pfc. Menchaca and Pfc. Tucker must be experiencing. Our deepest sympathy goes out to their families. … We are using every means at our disposal.”
Babineau, 25, was a native of Springfield, Mass., the Pentagon said. Menchaca, 23, is from Houston, and Tucker, 25, is from Madras, Ore.
“We are using all available assets, coalition and Iraqi, to find our soldiers and will not stop looking until we find them,” Caldwell said. “We will never stop looking for our servicemembers until their status is definitively determined.”
By Monday, a claim of responsibility was posted on a Web site often used by al-Qaida in Iraq and other groups.
“Your brothers in the military wing of the Mujahedeen Shura Council kidnapped the two American soldiers near Youssifiya,” the message read in part, according to an Associated Press translation.
There was no way to confirm the claim.
A third U.S. soldier in Iraq — Sgt. Keith “Matt” Maupin — has been listed as missing since an April 2004 attack on a convoy in Fallujah.