| Troops hunt for missing soldiers (AP)
When President George W. Bush first proposed his latest "troop surge" as another ploy to rescue his failed Iraq war strategy, Pentagon planners warned him the plan would increase American casualties in the civil-war torn country.
One estimate said the American death toll could top 10,000 by the end of 2008 and troop deaths have surged in recent weeks — the latest an attack on a military patrol that left five dead and three missing.
Although the "official" line out of both the Pentagon and the White House claims the surge is showing progress, the facts from soldiers on the ground says Baghdad and Iraq are becoming more and more dangerous and American casualties will continue to rise at alarming rates.
As Sudarsan Raghaven and Joshua Partlow report in The Washington Post :
A massive aerial and ground manhunt involving hundreds of American and Iraqi troops was underway Saturday for U.S. soldiers missing after an organized assault on a military patrol south of Baghdad. The convoy was carrying seven U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi army interpreter, and the attack left five dead and three missing.
The pre-dawn attack occurred 12 miles west of Mahmudiyah, a volatile city nestled between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers within a rural region dubbed the Triangle of Death. It is known to be infiltrated by al-Qaeda fighters and other Sunni insurgent groups. As of early Sunday, no group had asserted responsibility for the attack, U.S. military officials said.
In the hours after the assault, and stretching into the night, American combat helicopters, surveillance drones and airplanes scoured surrounding areas, U.S. military officials said. Troops secured a wide perimeter, conducting door-to-door searches and erecting checkpoints to seal off roads and streets to prevent the missing soldiers from being transported out of the area. U.S. military officials also were enlisting local leaders in the search.
"Make no mistake," Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, the military's top spokesman in Iraq, said in a statement, "We will never stop looking for our soldiers until their status is definitively determined, and we continue to pray for their safe return."
A U.S. military source familiar with the manhunt said the two-vehicle convoy was struck with a roadside bomb, then was apparently ambushed by gunmen. Some of the soldiers had been shot. Flames consumed the vehicles, but it was unclear whether the explosion caused the fire or if it had been set later.
"It was a planned, coordinated attack," the source said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.