U.S. offers reward for troop recovery

3 Americans were captured Saturday

hundreds of Iraqis held for questioning

May 16, 2007|By Ned Parker and Julian E. Barnes | Ned Parker and Julian E. Barnes,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Baghdad -- U.S. troops have detained hundreds of Iraqis, including four wanted as suspected insurgents, and dropped thousands of leaflets from airplanes, promising up to $200,000 reward for help in recovering three missing American soldiers captured Saturday by Islamic radicals, Army officers said yesterday.

At least 460 people had been held for questioning, although an undisclosed number have been released, the U.S. military said. More than 4,000 American troops continued to sweep the orchards and farmland around Mahmoudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad.

"Literally hundreds have been picked up for questioning and after are released," said Lt. Col. Randy Martin, a spokesman for the military command policing Baghdad's volatile southern belt, a sanctuary of Sunni armed groups.

Eleven detainees have been identified as possessing valuable information, including the four suspected insurgent leaders, who had been sought before the ambush.

"We have conducted more than 460 tactical interviews and detained 11 individuals. Four of them are considered high-value targets," said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a U.S. military spokesman.

"High-value targets" is a U.S. military term for alleged leaders of militant groups, bomb-makers, tacticians and other insurgents. Garver said it was unclear whether the four were connected to Saturday's ambush 10 miles west of Mahmoudiya, in which four U.S. soldiers and their Iraqi army interpreter were killed.

U.S. military officials said they believe the Islamic State of Iraq, an insurgent umbrella group linked to al-Qaida, is holding the American soldiers.

Loudspeakers have blared a message offering the $200,000 reward, as Army vehicles rolled through the agrarian communities. The urgent appeal also has been broadcast on Iraqi radio.

U.S. soldiers have come under sporadic small-arms fire during their manhunt in the region, dubbed "the Triangle of Death" for its high rate of kidnappings and killings. One soldier was wounded in the skirmishes, Martin said.

Drones flew overhead and helicopters logged more than 255 hours of flight while other U.S. security agencies deployed in the area, Garver said.

An Iraqi Sunni tribal leader, who identified himself as Sheik Abu Yasin, said the Americans were focusing on a Sunni Arab farming area called Harghawiya, located between Mahmoudiya and Yusifiya.

"The Americans have been conducting raids and arrests for the past three days in this area," said Abu Yasin. "This is a Sunni area. The search is very hard because of the nature of the orchards and farms."

The Army has yet to identify one of the four dead American soldiers, whose body was charred and missing its dogs tags. That left the military unsure of the identity of the three missing soldiers.

The three soldiers killed in the ambush were identified as Sgt. 1st Class James D. Connell Jr., 40, of Lake City, Tenn; Pfc. Daniel W. Courneya, 19, of Nashville, Mich.; and Pfc. Christopher E. Murphy, 21, of Lynchburg, Va.

Four others -- Sgt. Anthony J. Schober, 23, of Reno, Nev.; Spc. Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass; Pfc. Joseph J. Anzack Jr., 20, of Torrance, Calif; and Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich. -- were listed as "whereabouts unknown."

All were members of the 2nd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division, based in Fort Drum, N.Y. They had been parked in two armored Humvees, looking for insurgents planting roadside bombs, when their vehicles were struck by small-arms fire and explosives.

Ned Parker and Julian E. Barnes write for the Los Angeles Times.

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