Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Missing Soldiers Found Dead, Coalition Spokesman Says

June 20, 2006

Coalition forces recovered the bodies of two U.S. soldiers missing since an engagement with insurgents at a traffic checkpoint June 16, a senior Multinational Force Iraq official said here today.

Coalition spokesman Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said Iraqi soldiers found the bodies of Pfc. Kristian Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker yesterday in Yusufiyah, and recovered them today. The bodies were discovered near the electrical station in the area.

Coalition personnel discovered the bodies last night as darkness was falling, Caldwell said. Coalition forces could not approach then because there was evidence that improvised explosive devices may have been present.

"They waited until daylight to bring in the explosive ordnance detachment to pick up what we believe are our two soldiers," he said. "There were IEDs in that location and we did have to dismantle some stuff to get to (the bodies)."

The military will take the bodies to the United States for DNA verification. "Our heartfelt prayers go out to the families and friends of our two soldiers," Caldwell said. "I would ask everybody to remember the families in this time of their great sorrow."

The two soldiers had been listed as "duty status and whereabouts unknown." A third soldier - Spc. David J. Babineau - was killed in the original incident.

More than 8,000 coalition and Iraqi soldiers and police participated in the search for the missing Americans. Both men were members of the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. The unit serves as part of Multinational Division Baghdad.

U.S. Navy and Air Force fighter-attack jets; E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, or JSTARS, aircraft; and Predator unmanned aerial vehicles helped in the search. In addition, dive teams and "national assets of varying types" supported the effort, Caldwell said.

"There was a single vehicle with three soldiers in it when they came under attack," Caldwell said. U.S. officials will examine the situation as they would in any situation where coalition forces have been killed. Multinational Corps Iraq officials will come out with a report on the incident soon, Caldwell said.

An announcement posted on an extremist Web site claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and murders; Caldwell categorically denied the claim.

The general did not describe any of the wounds to the soldiers out of consideration for the families. He also said officials in the United States will perform autopsies on the men.

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. on June 16.

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.

Officials launched an immediate search. 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, coalition and Iraqi forces established blocking positions throughout the area to focus the search and prevent movement of suspects out of the area, Caldwell said.
(From DoD - American Forces Press Service and written by Jim Garamone)

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