By Jim Garamone
BAGHDAD, June 17, 2006 – Coalition and Iraqi officials have launched a massive search operation for two coalition soldiers missing following an incident in Yusufiyah, Iraq, yesterday. Multinational Force Iraq spokesman Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said today a third soldier was killed in the fight. The names are being withheld pending notification of next of kin. The soldiers were manning a checkpoint at a canal crossing near the Euphrates River. Forces at a nearby traffic-control point heard an explosion and small-arms fire at about 7:55 p.m. yesterday. A quick-reaction force responded and arrived on the scene within 15 minutes, Caldwell said. They found one soldier killed and the other two missing.
Those missing have been listed as "duty status and whereabouts unknown." This category changes to "missing in action" if they are not found in 10 days. "Coalition soldiers and Iraqi security forces initiated a search operation within minutes to determine the status of (the missing) soldiers, and we are currently using every means at our disposal on the ground, in the air and in the water to find them," Caldwell said. Following the incident, commanders notified all traffic-control points to stop civilian traffic and increase security. Coalition officials also dispatched helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles to aid the search.
"Within an hour of the incident, blocking positions were established throughout the area in a concerted effort to focus the search and prevent movement of suspects out of the area," Caldwell said. In addition, coalition forces launched three raids, one today and two yesterday, on suspected terrorist safe houses in the area. Dive teams are searching the canals and river near the site. Yusufiyah has been the site of many extremist incidents. In April, coalition forces killed and captured a number of foreign fighters hiding in the area. Battles in May resulted in the deaths of more than 40 Sunni extremists. Yusifiyah is a predominantly Sunni town about 10 miles south of Baghdad.
Coalition and Iraqi forces met with local leaders to enlist their aid in finding the missing soldiers.
"We continue to search using every means available and will not stop looking until we find the missing soldiers," Caldwell said. "Make no mistake: We never stop looking for our service members until their status is definitively determined, and we will continue to pray for their safe return." Only one soldier is listed as missing in action during the three-plus years of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Terrorists said they captured Army Sgt. Matt Maupin in April 2004. A videotape alleged to show Maupin appeared on an extremist Web site.