June 17, 2006

Two Soldiers Taken Hostage? (Revised)

Click on map for larger view
Just before sunset on June 16, three soldiers manning a checkpoint in the volatile Yusufiyah area about 18 miles southwest of Baghdad came under attack. One soldier was killed and two are missing. This raises a host of questions - unfortunately there are few answers yet.

First, how did this happen? Normally when setting up checkpoints, they are placed in positions that can see at least one other position, either a checkpoint or a firing position. The theory is that the positions can provide what is termed mutual support - covering and supporting fire and a quick reaction. From the official reports, it was 15 minutes before an American reaction team arrived on the scene.

** New information: The three soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division were part of the three-vehicle element operating a checkpoint in the Yusufiyah area. Two of the HMMWV's gave chase to a suspicious vehicle, leaving the third vehicle alone. It appears that this was a planned ambush - the suspect vehicle drew off two of the three vehicles, leaving the third vulnerable. Insurgents then attacked and overpowered the three soldiers, killing one. There are reports from locals that the two were seen being taken away by car.

Second, who most likely attacked the checkpoint? The Yusufiyah area has been a hotbed of "Al-Qa'idah in the Land of the Two Rivers" (Al-Qa'idah in Iraq) activity over the last three years. It would not be surprising that this group, formerly headed by the recently killed Abu Mus'ab Az-Zarqawi, would mount this type of attack. What better way to prove that the group retains operational capability than to capture two American soldiers?

Third, what now? I think it is unlikely that they will be found. As I once learned in training, if you can avoid capture for 20 minutes, you have an excellent chance of escape. Every minute beyond that, the size of the search area expands exponentially to the point that it is extremely difficult to be effective. It has been well over 24 hours since the incident.

I fully expect that within the next few days we will see a videotape on Al-Jazeera or another Arabic language network showing the two soldiers in the hands of an insurgent group. If this happens, the tape will no doubt have a significant psychological impact on the American public.

Unfortunately, there are now two American soldiers probably being held hostage by an Al-Qa'idah group - the result of an incident that should not have happened.
My comments on MSNBC (video).