Sunday, May 27, 2007

Triangle of Death Hostage Search: Day 15

As the search for the two soldiers still missing after a May 12 ambush entered the third week, U.S. and Iraqi commanders said their troops have detained 16 people directly related to the attack.

Three men disappeared after Al Qaeda-led insurgents attacked a U.S. military observation post in the Mahmoudiya area of the Triangle of Death. Four American soldiers and an Iraqi Army interpreter were found dead at the scene and three soldiers were kidnapped.

The body of one of the three missing soldiers was found floating in the Euphrates River on Wednesday, and an intense search continues near the river for the other two men, Specialist Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Massachusetts, and Private Byron W. Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Michigan.
Troops have detained scores of people during the dragnet and have released all but 100, who remain in U.S. and Iraqi custody.

Hundreds of soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment Stryker Battalion searched fish farms in a swampy area 11 miles south of Yusufiya, the military said.

They found 14 weapons caches and 3,000 pounds of explosives and ammunition, much of it buried in 55-gallon drums, the military said. The fish farms, fed by the two main canals in the area, were not operational.

Elements of the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment and Iraqi soldiers searched along the Euphrates River, two miles south of where the attack took place.

The location may have been a crossing point to transport the missing soldiers from one side of the river to the other.
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The ambush that precipitated the kidnappings was on a small outpost that is an example of a risky new counterinsurgency tactic in the war which emphasizes pushing soldiers out of safe bases into local communities.

Reports Damien Cave of The New York Times from Mahmoudiya:

"Whether this new plan will work remains an open question. The number of bombs found or detonated here has declined since last fall, and soldiers are finding nearly 6 in 10 before they go off, according to figures from the brigade in charge of the area. Some troops, placed in villages where strict Islamic law was enforced, also say they have brought stability and more freedom to local residents.

"But military officials acknowledge that this new dispersal strategy is risky. Their forces, they say, are not numerous enough to control the entire area. And insurgents have begun adjusting to the new American strategy with deadly sophistication, coordinating complex assaults on isolated troops and placing explosives where foot patrols will likely cross. In many ways, the soldiers’ experiences at these outposts demonstrate how every new American tactic provokes an equally new and deadly response."

As is often the case, the struggle comes down to resources and terrain.

The Second Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division, with about 3,200 soldiers, covers the Triangle of Death around Mahmoudiya, Latafiya and Yusifiya. The area is roughly the size of Cape Cod with 400,000 people, and is difficult to manage, commanders said, because residents are spread across hundreds of farms.

Adds Cave:

"The Iraqi Army plays an increasingly prominent role here but some military analysts question whether there are enough American troops to keep any kind of peace or to keep insurgents from feeding bombs and weapons into Baghdad."

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Here's an index of previous Kiko's House reports on the ambush and search:
Saturday, May 26: A Somber Holiday in Michigan
Friday, May 25:
Memorial Day Edition
Thursday, May 24:
A Vigil For Joseph Anzack

Wednesday, May 23:
A Body Is Found

Tuesday, May 22:
Ambush Victims Come Home For Burial
Monday, May 21: Hopes Grow Slimmer

Sunday, May 20:
A Flicker of Hope But the Trail Goes Cold
Saturday, May 19: The Triangle of Death Up Close

Friday, May 18:
Who Are the Dead and Missing Men?
Thursday, May 17: Has the Search Impacted on the Surge?
Wednesday, May 16: Anatomy of An Abduction & Search

Photograph by Michael Kamber for The New York Times

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