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2 missing U.S. soldiers alive ?

U.S. forces broadened their hunt Saturday for three missing comrades beyond the rural area south of Baghdad where they disappeared, and their top commander expressed optimism that at least two of them were still alive a week after their isolated outpost was ambushed.

The search for the missing soldiers involves some 4,000 troops who
"will not stop searching until we find our soldiers,"
said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad.
"We're using all available assets and continuing to assault the al-Qaida in Iraq network,"
he said.

Acting on a tip, Garver said troops raided a building in Amiriyah on Saturday morning and captured nine Iraqis suspected of involvement in the attack. Amiriyah is a stronghold of Sunni insurgents with close tribal ties to Quarghuli, where the outpost was overrun.

He said U.S. troops also detained two Iraqis in Baqouba who he said were "associated" with the al-Qaida command network. He did not tie those arrests directly to the missing soldiers. Their outpost in Quarghuli is about 12 miles south of Baghdad and about 50 miles from Baqouba, a violence-wracked city to the north.

A group that claims ties to al-Qaida has claimed responsibility for the May 12 attack that resulted in the kidnapping and the deaths of four American soldiers and an Iraqi aide. However, there has been no evidence, such as photos, video or audio, released by that or other groups.

Army Gen. David Petraeus, the senior American commander in Iraq, told the Army Times newspaper in an interview Friday night that U.S. forces were focusing on an insurgent who is "sort of an affiliate of al-Qaida."

He said an informant provided U.S. forces with names of those who took part in the raid and kidnapping but they were still at large. "We've had all kinds of tips down there. We just tragically haven't found the individuals," he said.

Petraeus said he did not know whether the three missing soldiers, from the Army's 10th Mountain Division, were alive. But
"as of this morning, we thought there were at least two that were probably still alive,"
he said.

"At one point in time there was a sense that one of them might have died, but again, we just don't know."

An Iraqi army intelligence officer, who said he helped interrogate two suspects detained in recent days in Mahmoudiya, said they confessed to participating in the raid. Mahmoudiya is the largest town in the search area.

They said 13 insurgents conducted the surprise attack and then escaped in two groups. The leader of the group, along with some gunmen, took the kidnapped soldiers to a destination unknown by the two detainees, he said.

He added that the two detainees gave interrogators the hiding place for weapons used in the ambush and U.S. troops went there and took them.

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