By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
WASHINGTON, June 27, 2006 – The U.S. military is conducting an aggressive investigation to find those responsible for the deaths this month of three U.S. soldiers - one of whom died in an initial attack on the checkpoint the soldiers were manning, and two of whom were found dead four days later not far from the checkpoint, a top general in Iraq said today. The attack occurred June 16 at a traffic control checkpoint about 30 kilometers southwest of Baghdad. Army Spc. David J. Babineau, 25, was killed in the attack, and Army Pfc. Kristian Menchaca and Army Pfc. Thomas Tucker went missing.
After days of search operations involving about 8,000 coalition and Iraqi security forces, Menchaca and Tucker's remains were recovered June 20 alongside a road near the village of Mufaraji, northwest of Youssifiyah, 12 miles south of Baghdad, Army Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of Multinational Division Baghdad, said in a news conference from Iraq.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of these great soldiers," Thurman said. "We will remember their sacrifice; their commitment and contribution will never be forgotten. These soldiers represent the human dimension of war."
The recovery efforts to find the two soldiers began immediately after the attack and lasted until June 20, when the two soldiers' remains were discovered, Thurman said. U.S. Army and Marine units, Iraqi army units and Iraqi Special Forces conducted 25 combat operations and 11 air assaults, he said. "This was a true combined and joint effort that we put forth to go find our missing soldiers," Thurman said. "We pulled out the stops to go find these two soldiers."
U.S. and Iraqi forces analyzed evidence found at the site of the attack and several other sites and used tips from local Iraqis to guide them to the soldiers' bodies, Thurman said. The site containing the soldiers' remains had to be cleared before the remains were recovered, because it contained improvised explosive devices, he said. Thurman has directed a formal investigation into the events surrounding the deaths of Menchaca and Tucker, but he said he believes al Qaeda was involved. "These events demonstrate what a ruthless and brutal enemy we face and the tough nature of this fight that we're in today, as the terrorists continue to try to disrupt the formation of this government," he said. "We will continue to target these elements and we will bring them to justice, because they're operating outside the rule of law, and that will not stand."
U.S. and Iraqi forces detained 36 people during the recovery operations, 20 of whom are directly or indirectly linked to the attack, Thurman said. Of those detained, 13 people continue to provide valuable intelligence to U.S. and Iraqi forces and are still being questioned, he said. The operations also yielded more than 300 documents, CDs and videotapes, which are being included in the investigation, he said. "We'll continue to target the personnel responsible for and linked to this attack," he said. "We'll be very relentless in finding out who did this act." Thurman lauded the Iraqi forces for their quick response, and the Iraqi citizens for coming forward with information. He stressed that U.S. and Iraqi forces will continue to work to prevent further violence in and around Baghdad.