Thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops were conducting a massive search Monday for three missing American soldiers captured in an ambush last week south of Baghdad, the Iraqi army said.
A group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq, believed to have ties to al-Qaida, claims to have captured the three soldiers during last week's deadly attack on a U.S. vehicle patrol about 12 miles west of Mahmoudiya. The town is located in an al-Qaida stronghold known as the "triangle of death" and authorities say it is a major staging area for attacks on the capital.
Four others, including an Iraqi translator were also killed in Saturday's attack.
During Monday's sweep of a farming area near Mahmoudiya, where both Sunni and Shia militias are active, a U.S. search team backed by aircraft exchanged gunfire with suspected Sunni insurgents, killing two and wounding four of them, the army said.
Although U.S. and Iraqi soldiers casualties are a daily occurrence in Iraq, it is rare for soldiers to go missing. So far, Islamic State of Iraq has provided no evidence to support their claim of having captured the three Americans, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad said.
"It would not surprise me if ... al-Qaida in Iraq is involved in this because there are similarities to what they've done before," said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, according to the Associated Press.
Garver pointed out that the terror network also had claimed responsibility for killing two U.S. soldiers whose mutilated and booby-trapped bodies were found after they went missing in the same area last year.
A day after conducting a house-to-house search for the missing soldiers in the town of Youssifiyah, U.S. and Iraqi forces exchanged gunfire with suspected insurgents, killing two of them and wounding four others, a senior Iraqi army officer in the area said.
He said more than 100 suspected insurgents had been detained during three days of searches.
Written by Scott Neuman with reporting from Anne Garrels and JJ Sutherland.