Leaving No Man Behind

The search for three U.S. soldiers kidnapped southeast of Baghdad involves 6,000 of their American and Iraqi colleagues. Retired Marine Lt. Col. Gary Anderson says the search for missing combat companions is a "sacred" duty.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

U.S. and Iraqi troops are continuing to search for three American soldiers who have been missing since an attack last week. Four other Americans and an Iraqi soldier died in that attack. Thousands of troops are involved in the search. Military officials said today that nine suspects in the abductions were detained after soldiers raided a building in Amiriyah, a Sunni stronghold west of Baghdad.

Retired Marine Colonel Gary Anderson is an adviser to the Defense Department on urban warfare and counterinsurgency. He joins us from member station WXXI in Rochester, New York, to talk about the mindset behind the military search for missing soldiers. Welcome.

Colonel GARY ANDERSON (U.S. Marine; Retired; Adviser, Department of Defense): Good morning.

YDSTIE: Talk about the meaning for the military of the concept if you're ever capture, you're buddies will come after you.

Col. ANDERSON: This goes back to really the deepest ethos of both the Army and the Marine Corps, and it's something that every soldier who goes out of the field knows that if something happens to him, his buddies are going to try to get him. And it's pretty sacred for the military.

YDSTIE: Mm-hmm and important to morale, I'm sure.

Col. ANDERSON: It is important to morale, and it's something that, you know, if something bad happens to you that you're not going to be forgotten.

YDSTIE: There are, as I understand it, about 6,000 soldiers - 4,000 Americans, 2,000 Iraqis - looking for these three men in an insurgent stronghold that's one of the most dangerous areas in Iraq. At what point, if ever, does the risk and the use of all these resources become too great and you discontinue the search?

Col. ANDERSON: Well, it will never be discontinued. The level of activities may go down if it's pretty obvious that they've probably been, you know, exfiltrated into an area away from the actual search area. But I think that's a decision they're going to have to make on the ground based on the intelligence they do have and so forth.

YDSTIE: I wonder back to the, sort of, ethos and the morale issue of knowing that someone is going to come after you and how important that is. On the other hand, if you put all these resources into searching and then, you know, you can't find them, there's a bad end, I mean, does hanging on to this - isn't there a price that comes from just hanging on to this belief that you're going to find these people and you're going to spend all these resources to do it?

Col. ANDERSON: It's not a cost benefit analysis. It's quite, as a matter of fact, a moral duty that we feel we have to our troops. The cost, at this point in time, at least I'm sure the farthest thing from the heads of the military commanders that are conducting that operation. I remember, distinctly, when I was a youngster reading the story of the Marines coming out of the Chosin reservoirs, surrounded by the Chinese with, literally, the bodies that are dead, strapped to the front vehicles and so forth. And I'm sure…

YDSTIE: This is the Korean War.

Col. ANDERSON: This is the Korean War. I'm sure that they probably could have used that space for supplies and so forth but that was never a consideration.

YDSTIE: The United States is offering up to $200,000 for information on the whereabouts of these soldiers. Is a tip the best hope for finding them, do you think?

Col. ANDERSON: Tip is the best hope of finding them and one of the inducements may well work. Except to this particular guerilla group is in pretty strong control in that area. And they know that they are increasingly ruthless so all we can do at this point - I really hope that that pays off in some ways (unintelligible), or you know, there has been some real tension between the locals and al-Qaida, and that might turn out to be to their disadvantage too.

YDSTIE: Have the methods for this kind of search changed over the years, or is it basically you throw as many people as you can at this kind of thing and you try to find people?

Col. ANDERSON: Yeah. There's been a lot of work done on tagging technologies and so forth. In other words, sewing something into a soldier's uniform where he can be tagged, at least, until they take his uniform away from him. Unfortunately, that technology is not wide enough spread that it's in that particular unit at this point in time. But I've been an advocate for a long time of doing that, it would make a lot easier (unintelligible).

YDSTIE: Seems like it wouldn't be very expensive either.

Col. ANDERSON: No, it wouldn't be really expensive, and quite frankly, I don't know why it hadn't been done sooner than that. But I think after this incident, there's going to be some human cry to increase those technologies.

YDSTIE: Gary Anderson is a retired Marine colonel who advises the Defense Department on urban warfare and counterinsurgency. He joined us from member station WXXI in Rochester, New York. Thanks very much, colonel.

Col. ANDERSON: Thanks a lot, John.

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