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American Forces Press Service

Iraqi, Coalition Forces Detain Suspects in Search for Missing Troops

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 16, 2007 – Acting on tips received from Iraqi citizens, Iraqi special operations forces and coalition troops detained 16 individuals today during a search for three U.S. soldiers missing since May 12.

The troops detained the suspects during search operations south of Baghdad.

Three U.S. soldiers have been missing since an attack on their convoy May 12 in Mahmudiyah. The attack left four U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter dead.

Since the attack, coalition and Iraqi forces have launched a massive effort to find the missing soldiers. The search area is divided into 35 zones, and operations have been conducted in 32 of those zones, Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a Multinational Force Iraq spokesman, said during a Baghdad news conference today.

More than 600 people have been questioned, Caldwell said, while 11 or so have been detained for further questioning.

The 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, is maintaining 24-hour full-spectrum operations dedicated to the search and rescue of the missing soldiers, officials reported today.

Since May 12, aviation soldiers of 3rd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, have been using their UH-60 helicopter to conduct hasty air assaults and air movements of soldiers and cargo around the clock supporting the search for the missing soldiers, said Maj. Gail Atkins, the unit’s operations officer.

The battalion also has assisted in an information campaign by dropping leaflets onto the battlefield in an effort to recover information about the missing soldiers' whereabouts from the locals, Atkins said.

"Both the air-to-ground integration and also the air-to-air integration has worked well, ... and I hope it has provided ... the support that they've needed," she said. "Our aircrews, our maintenance -- everybody is surging right now to ensure that we leave no gaps in coverage.”

Along with 3-227th, the 4th Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, an AH-64D Apache attack helicopter battalion, is providing support to the recovery effort.

Since their first response to the attack that morning, the 4-227th has kept two teams of Apaches in the air to support the mission 24 hours a day, said Capt. David Roman, battle captain and Apache pilot for 4-227th.

"We've flown approximately 353 hours since the event," he said.

Because the soldiers searching on the ground are stretched throughout a large area, not only do they need supplies taken to them, but they need help relaying information to their headquarters, Roman said.

"One of the best ways we've been combat enablers for them is through reconnaissance and radio retransmissions -- being able to talk to them and enable their communications," he said.

One of the main roles of an attack pilot is to deliver accurate fire to protect the troops on the ground. This role has played out many times since the operation has started, Roman said.

So far the pilots have supported numerous air assaults, responded to multiple improvised-explosive-device attacks, supported medical evacuations, responded to troops under fire and even tracked an insurgent.

The maintenance teams of both the 3rd and 4th battalions of the 227th have been working overtime to keep the scheduled maintenance on time, as well as keep unexpected maintenance issues resolved so that there is continuous coverage for the soldiers conducting the search-and-rescue mission, Atkins said.

(Compiled from Multinational Corps Iraq news releases.)

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