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Iraq Transition

Report: Insurgents captured soldiers

Witness tells NY Times he saw two U.S. soldiers being led away

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell says a search will continue until the soldiers are found.


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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi witnesses say they saw two U.S. soldiers who survived an attack at a checkpoint near Baghdad being led away by masked insurgents to a pair of cars, The New York Times is reporting in its Sunday edition.

"There are intelligence indicators [that] they may have been captured alive rather than killed," a senior military official told CNN on Saturday night.

One U.S. soldier was killed in the attack, and a massive search was under way Saturday for the two who are unaccounted for.

The paper cited Iraqis in the area, who were interviewed by telephone from Baghdad, as saying the attack appeared to have been intended to lure some soldiers away and separate the force. (Watch painful memories for mother of missing soldier -- 1:49)

The paper quoted Hassan Abdul Hadi, who said he was tending to his date palms and apple trees when he heard gunfire and explosions.

Hadi said that he walked to the road and saw an American Humvee, the Times reported.

"I was shocked to see the Humvee -- nothing seemed to be wrong with it," Hadi told the Times. "Then I heard the men shouting 'God is great!' and I saw that they had taken the Americans with them. The gunmen took them and drove away."

Yusufiya, about 20 miles southwest of Baghdad, is part of Iraq's "Triangle of Death," where insurgents are active and there is widespread lawlessness.

The paper, citing interviews conducted earlier this year with Iraqi insurgents, said Karagol, the village near where the apparent ambush took place, had been under al Qaeda control.

U.S. military: Reinforcements arrived within 15 minutes

When the checkpoint along a canal was attacked at about 7:55 p.m. (11:55 a.m. ET) Friday, soldiers at an nearby traffic control point heard an explosion and small-arms fire, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said Saturday. (Watch how the military is using land, air and water resources in search -- 2:59)

Reinforcements arrived within 15 minutes and found one soldier dead and the other two missing, the general said.

The New York Times cited witnesses as saying insurgents had been firing at the checkpoint from fruit groves along the road, and that when Americans gave chase in two Humvees the insurgents retreated into the groves.

At that point seven or eight guerrillas attacked the checkpoint from another direction, the paper reported the witnesses as saying, adding that a team of Americans arrived minutes after the two soldiers were taken away.

The names of the two soldiers are being withheld pending family notification.

'We never stop looking'

The search for them has involved helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles and divers, who have scoured the canals and the nearby Euphrates River.

Three raids were conducted Friday night and another Saturday morning, Caldwell said, and coalition troops have enlisted the help of local leaders and civilians.

"We are using all available assets," Caldwell said. "We never stop looking for our service members until their status is definitively determined, and we continue to pray for their safe return."

Caldwell also highlighted the case of another soldier missing in Iraq, saying the military is still looking for Sgt. Keith Matthew Maupin, who disappeared in April 2004 after his convoy was attacked near Baghdad International Airport.

Like the two soldiers who went missing Friday, Maupin's initial status was "whereabouts unknown." The military changed the Ohio soldier's status to "missing-captured" after the Arabic-language TV network Al-Jazeera showed a videotape of Maupin being held captive by insurgents.

Two months later, Al-Jazeera said it had received a videotape and statement from insurgents who claimed they killed Maupin, but U.S. officials were unable to identify him. His status remained "missing-captured."

Maupin's mother said her thoughts are with the families of the two soldiers missing after Friday's attack

"It's like reliving our first notice of when Matt's whereabouts (were) unknown," Carolyn Maupin said. "I can relate to the parents and I've been praying for them, so hopefully they will find them very, very soon, because I can relate to how they feel."

CNN's Cal Perry and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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