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Pentagon probing Iraqi actions in 507th ambush
By Sergio Bustos and Billy House | GNS
WASHINGTON - The Pentagon is investigating the death and disappearance of soldiers from the 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company at Fort Bliss, Texas, focusing on whether Iraqi soldiers executed those killed, officials said.
"What we're trying to do is get the entire picture before we put it out,'' said Lt. Cmdr. Charles Owens, a spokesman at coalition headquarters in Doha, Qatar.
"We know that people are curious, but we don't have all the information as fact. Just rumors,'' he said.
The soldiers, who were part of a noncombat unit, were captured after Iraqi soldiers ambushed them Sunday near the city of An Nasiriyah in southern Iraq. The unit reportedly had made a wrong turn.
The Pentagon confirmed Wednesday that two soldiers from the unit were dead, eight are missing and five were taken as prisoners of war by Iraqi military authorities.
Speculation that soldiers had been executed by Iraqi soldiers first surfaced Sunday when televised images of the captured soldiers on the Al-Jazeera network showed dead bodies of at least four other soldiers with apparent bullet wounds to the head.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said Wednesday he ``heard reports that some of these prisoners have been shot outright.''
"I am outraged at the treatment of our troops who have been taken as prisoners of war by Saddam Hussein and his regime,'' Hastert said.
House Armed Services Committee members, who are briefed daily on the Iraq war, said they are convinced the dead soldiers were not killed in a gun battle.
"It was very apparent to me that a number of our soldiers had been shot in the head, and it seemed to be at close range,'' said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., a freshman lawmaker who sits on the committee.
One of his constituents, Pfc. Lori Piestewa, 23, of Tuba City, Ariz., is listed as missing.
Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, also a committee member, said he has spoken with high-ranking Defense Department officials this week about the incident.
Reyes, a Vietnam veteran who represents the El Paso area, said he contacted Pentagon officials Monday and still is awaiting some answers.
"I'm angry that it got out in the media that the 507th had taken a wrong turn,'' Reyes said. ``Why wasn't the 507th escorted?''
"The supply line is a couple hundred miles long,'' he said. "This is a maintenance battalion that should have been operating in a relatively secure environment. If not, they should have been escorted by a combat unit.''
Reyes said Pentagon officials told him that the 507th ran into an Iraqi combat unit that included a couple of tanks and soldiers armed with automatic weapons.
"(The 507th) was lightly armed,'' Reyes said. "They didn't have a chance.''
"My concern is that we don't want other support groups put in jeopardy because of this (military) strategy of dashing to Baghdad,'' he said.
Among the missing were Pvt. Ruben Estrella-Soto, 18, an El Paso native, and Chief Warrant Officer Johnny Villareal Mata, 35, of El Paso. Among the captured from El Paso was Spc. Shoshana Nyree Johnson, 30, a single mother with a 2-year-old daughter.
(Contributing: Derrick DePledge, GNS. Billy House is a Washington correspondent for The Arizona Republic)
15 in the 507th
The official status of 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company soldiers who ambushed Sunday in Iraq.
Spc. Jamaal R. Addison, 22, of Roswell, Ga.
Pfc. Howard Johnson II, 21, of Mobile, Ala.
Prisoners of war:
Spc. Edgar Adan Hernandez, 21, of Mission, Texas
Spc. Joseph Neal Hudson, 23, of Alamogordo, N.M.
Spc. Shoshana Nyree Johnson, 30, of El Paso, Texas.
Pfc. Patrick Wayne Miller, 23, of Walter, Kan.
Sgt. James Joseph Riley, 31, of Pennsauken, N.J.
Master Sgt. Robert J. Dowdy, 38, of Cleveland, Ohio.
Pvt. Ruben Estrella-Soto, 18, of El Paso, Texas .
Spc. James M. Kiehl, 22, of Des Moines, Iowa .
Pfc. Jessica D. Lynch, 19, of Palestine, W.Va.
Chief Warrant Officer Johnny Villareal Mata, 35, of El Paso, Texas.
Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa, 23, of Tuba City, Ariz.
Pvt. Brandon Ulysses Sloan, 19, of Bedford, Ohio.
Sgt. Donald Ralph Walters, 33, of Salem, Ore.