United States have an obligation first and foremost to those families
who have either lost or have someone missing, and to them we owe our
first responsibility of any reporting."
Earlier today, Iraqi General Abd al-Aziz Muhammad said the bodies of the soldiers had been identified and that they showed signs of being tortured. But Caldwell urged reporters not to pass on such reports until the bodies' identities have been formally established by the U.S. military.
"There have been press reports that have gone on this afternoon stating that we have, in fact, found the remains of our two missing soldiers," Caldwell said. "What I will just say at this point is -- we as the armed forces of the United States have an obligation first and foremost to those families who have either lost or have someone missing, and to them we owe our first responsibility of any reporting."
A witness to the June 16 incident told AP that the three Americans, in a Humvee, were overwhelmed by a large crowd of insurgents who killed the driver and captured the two passengers. This account couldn't be independently confirmed.
Officials said the bodies of army Private First-Class Kristian Menchaca
and Private First-Class Thomas Tucker were found. A third soldier, Specialist David Babineau, was killed in the June 16 attack.
On June 19, U.S. and Iraqi forces began a large search operation for Menchaca and Tucker in the region south of Baghdad known as the "Triangle of Death." The operation included more than 8,000 Iraqi and U.S. troops.
Revenge For Al-Zarqawi?
The Mujahedeen Shura Council, which claims to be an umbrella group that includes Al-Qaeda in Iraq, said in a statement posted on the Internet that it had captured the missing soldiers. The report was considered dubious because it didn't include their names, nor did it offer video of the missing soldiers, which commonly accompanies such claims by Iraqi insurgents.
The statement by the council said it captured the two soldiers to avenge the killing on June 7 of Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. It also took responsibility for the kidnapping of four employees of the Russian Embassy in Baghdad.
There are now about 130,000 U.S. military personnel in Iraq, but it is rare that any are captured. At the start of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, six Americans were taken in an ambush in southern Iraq.
More recently, in April 2004, Sergeant Keith Maupin was taken during an ambush of a fuel convoy. A video later showed what was described as the execution of a U.S. soldier -- presumably Maupin -- but the U.S. Army said it was not conclusive evidence that he had been killed.
At today's briefing in Baghdad, Caldwell said the U.S. military was studying the techniques that insurgents use in capturing and holding U.S. soldiers.
"A great many coalition security personnel continue to study the different kidnapping techniques that are being utilized by these different anti-Iraqi elements and tactics and techniques that they use as they continue to do this," he said. "We are all very much aware of the atrocities that they commit, not only by the foreign fighters [but also by] some of the indigenous groups with their victims that they take into their custody. It pains us to realize what fellow service members may go through and other American citizens."
Another Al-Qaeda Leader Killed
On another subject, Caldwell said the coalition forces had killed Mansur Sulayman Mansur Khalif al-Mahsadani, whom he described as the spiritual leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
"We do know that Sheikh Mansur was a key leader in Al-Qaeda in Iraq with excellent religious, military, and leadership credentials within that organization," he added. "He was tied to the senior leadership, including having relationships with both Zarqawi and with [al-Zarqawi's possible successor, Abu Ayyub] al-Masri. We do think that his death will significantly continue to impact on the ability of this organization to regenerate and reorganize itself."
Mansur's death comes nearly two weeks after al-Zarqawi's death in a U.S. air strike. Caldwell said that while Al-Qaeda in Iraq lost its leader, it is still a force to be reckoned with.
(compiled from agency reports)
Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi(undated AFP file photo)
COMMITTED TO TERROR: Jordan-born Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi has been among the most visible and ruthless leaders of Iraq's post-Saddam Hussein insurgency. In a tape released earlier this month, al-Zaqawi called on Iraqi Sunnis to fight against Shi'a and labeled Shi'ite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani an "atheist."
Insurgents loyal to Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda-affiliated organization have regained control over much of Al-Anbar Governorate, and are posing a major challenge to U.S. and Iraqi forces. A local security force established by tribesmen under an agreement with the U.S. military has all but ceased operating, after nearly a dozen tribal leaders were assassinated in revenge attacks by insurgents loyal to al-Zarqawi's Mujahedin Shura Council since January. Local tribal leaders now say they are afraid to be seen associating with U.S. forces, lest they be targeted by insurgents....(more)