The U.S. military has offered rewards of up to $200,000 for information leading to the return of three missing American soldiers, a U.S. general said Wednesday.
Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of U.S. troops south of Baghdad, said the offer was made on 50,000 leaflets distributed in the area where the troops disappeared after a pre-dawn ambush Saturday. Four American troops and an Iraq soldier were killed in the ambush.
Word of the reward was also broadcast over loudspeakers as part of a massive search involving 4,000 U.S. troops and 2,000 Iraqis, Lynch said.
“We distributed 50,000 leaflets, and in the leaflets and over loudspeakers we listed the numbers of our tips lines,” Lynch told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
He said the reward was one of several measures being taken as part of the search. Troops have pursued 143 intelligence leads, have staged eight air assault operations and established blocking positions to keep those behind the abductions from fleeing with their captives.
“We’ve done so much as to drain canals after a report that the bodies were in a canal,” Lynch said. “So we’re leaving no stone unturned.”
The U.S. command has said the searchers were trying to isolate areas where they suspect the captives may have been taken after the attack. The ambush took place near Mahmoudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad.
An al-Qaida front group, the Islamic State of Iraq, has said it captured the soldiers and warned the Americans in a Web statement Monday to call off the hunt “if you want their safety.”
Deployment strategy questioned
The soldiers who were attacked Saturday were assigned to a small patrol base set up as part of the new U.S. strategy to move troops from large, heavily defended garrisons to live and work among the people.
Critics of the strategy had warned that such small outposts are more vulnerable to attack. Last month, nine American soldiers were killed when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden vehicle near a small patrol base northeast of Baghdad.
Lynch said he was optimistic the three soldiers would be found alive, adding that the search remained focused on the area where they disappeared.
“We’re pursuing all intelligence,” he said. “Some of those leads tell us that the soldiers have been taken out of the area, but the majority tell us that they’re still in the area.”