Baghdad ‘Surge’ Moves Forward as Search for Missing Troops Continues
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 16, 2007 As the troop surge continues in Baghdad, search efforts continue for three 10th Mountain Division soldiers who remain missing following a pre-dawn attack south of the city, the Joint Staff’s deputy operations director reported today.
“A massive effort is under way to locate three missing American soldiers,” Army Brig. Gen. Perry Wiggins told reporters during a Pentagon briefing.
The soldiers, members of Fort Drum’s 4th Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, were abducted about 20 miles south of Baghdad at 4:45 a.m. May 12. Four U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi army interpreter were killed in the incident.
Wiggins said credible intelligence points to al Qaeda or an associated group as the abductors.
He described the scope of the search for the missing troops, which includes thousands of U.S. soldiers and their Iraqi counterparts. “We are using all intelligence resources at our disposal, including aerial platforms and human intelligence teams,” he said.
In addition, checkpoints set up throughout the area are helping focus the search and prevent the captors from attempting to transport the missing soldiers, he said.
Wiggins declined to give additional specifics about the search that could jeopardize the operation but assured reporters no stone will go unturned until the soldiers are found.
“It is important for the American people to know that we are using every asset and resource available to the United States and Iraqi partners in our efforts to find our soldiers,” he said.
“As a soldier myself who has commanded in Iraq, I can assure the American people, particularly the families of the missing soldiers, that we are committed to the soldier’s creed of never leaving a fallen comrade,” Wiggins said. “And I know that every soldier involved in the search is living by that creed as well and doing everything they can to find these brave soldiers.”
Meanwhile, the troop surge continues in an effort to reduce violence in Baghdad and stabilize the city, Wiggins said. “Our objective in Baghdad, partnered with Iraqi security forces, is to improve security and stability so that the necessary political and economic progress can take place,” he said.
The fourth of five U.S. Army brigade combat teams that constitute the surge has arrived and started operations in the northern part of the Baghdad, he reported. This unit, 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, includes about 3,700 soldiers and their Stryker armored vehicles.
These troops are working hand in hand with Iraqi security forces to clear, control and hold key areas of the city. Wiggins said ground commanders welcome the unit’s capability and the tactical range and mobility the Stryker vehicles lend to the effort.
The fifth brigade in the surge, 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, is completing its arrival in Kuwait and is expected to be fully operational in the Baghdad area by mid-June, Wiggins said.
These reinforcements will bring the U.S. troop strength there to about 155,000 by mid-June, up from about 133,000 in December, he said. Wiggins emphasized that troop numbers fluctuate regularly as units rotate in and out of the country.
Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces continue to mature as they grow in numbers and capability, he said. The Iraqi army now has about 140,000 troops trained, equipped and on the ground. Currently 80 battalions have taken the operational lead and nine are working independently, Wiggins said.
As they operate, Wiggins emphasized that the troops go to great lengths to avoid killing or hurting innocent civilians and prevent collateral damage. This is in stark contrast to the “barbaric nature of the enemy we face,” both in al Qaeda in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
These groups kill indiscriminately and actually target civilians, he said. Pointing to a specific example where al Qaeda set up “a premeditated death trap” at a girl’ school north of Baghdad, Wiggins said the insurgents’ action “shows humanity at its lowest point.”
U.S. and Iraqi troops found and dismantled the operation before it could inflict any damage, he reported.