- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Army troops heard shots coming from a checkpoint south of Baghdad where one soldier was killed and two were abducted last week, but by the time they raced to the scene, the insurgents had escaped.

An Army official yesterday gave this account of the events Friday night at a roadblock near Yusufiyah. The Army has concluded that the three, stationed in one armored Humvee vehicle, were victims of a “well-orchestrated” attack by more than a half-dozen insurgents who caught them by surprise. The two kidnapped soldiers were tortured and killed by their captives, Iraqi general said.

“At some point, they hear fire back in the position of the soldiers,” the Army official said. “So, soldiers converge on that position. They find one soldier dead, blood nearby and two missing.”

The remains of the two soldiers who were abducted are scheduled to arrive at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware today for DNA analysis and autopsies. The bodies were mutilated so badly that positive identification could not be made in Iraq. But the Army thinks the remains found Monday adjacent to a power plant near the town are those of Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, and Pfc. Thomas Lowell Tucker, 25.

The U.S. Iraq command yesterday still was compiling an exact chronology of what happened at the checkpoint and why three junior enlisted soldiers were left alone in one of the most dangerous areas of Anbar province.

But an Army official provided limited details to The Washington Times, on the condition of anonymity.

The Army had positioned an armored vehicle launch bridge — essentially a tank chassis fitted with two metal walkways that can be extended over a small waterway — at a traffic crossing.

More than three soldiers were at the spot originally, but a group of soldiers broke away at some point. Eyewitnesses said insurgents created a diversion, but the Army official said internal reports do not confirm this account.

With the three manning one Humvee, insurgents then began what the Army thinks was a complex attack that overwhelmed the group at 7:55 p.m. The soldiers who had left heard the shots.

“The bottom line is when they arrived there, the two soldiers were missing,” the Army official said.

Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the top tactical commander in Iraq, has ordered an investigation into the incident.

One issue is why junior enlisted soldiers were left to man a checkpoint alone. Patrols typically involve more than 10 soldiers. If attacked, troops set up a defense perimeter and call in backup.

Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, chief spokesman in Baghdad, said one Humvee at a checkpoint is not normal procedure.

“We have a fairly known standard throughout the theater here that any movement that you make is done in about a three-vehicle convoy or larger, for a variety of reasons,” he told CNN. “That’s our normal modus operandi.”

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