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Thursday, April 10

Iraqis may help U.S. locate POWs

By Diana W. Valdez | El Paso Times

EL PASO, Texas - A U.S. general said Thursday that the opportunity to gain information on prisoners of war is improving daily.

Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, joint staff vice director of J-3 operations at the Pentagon, told the media Thursday now that coalition forces are mingling with Iraqis, ``the opportunity to get information about our prisoners goes way up.'` But McChrystal added that he had no information he could disclose publicly about efforts to find the seven U.S. POWs.

Five Fort Bliss soldiers of the 507th Maintenance Company have not been seen by U.S. or Red Cross officials since they were captured by Iraqis on March 23. They were part of a supply convoy that was attacked by Iraqi paramilitaries. Nine of their fellow soldiers were killed in the ambush.

Four others were wounded, and Pfc. Jessica Lynch - at first reported missing - was rescued from Iraqi custody on April 1.

One of the tools the Defense Department has at its disposal to help find the American POWs is an incentive program that offers rewards such as cash or food in exchange for critical information.

The incentive program was used with success during the 2001 military operation in Afghanistan, Navy Lt. Dan Hetlage, a spokesman for the Pentagon, said Thursday.

``The guidance we have doesn't specify a reward for information about POWs, although it would be up to the regional commanders to decide whether to use the program for this purpose,'` Hetlage said. ``We have to be careful that something like this doesn't turn into a ransom situation.

``The program is intended to encourage local citizens to provide information or other assistance, useful to military authorities, and including the delivery of dangerous personnel (key leaders) and weapons caches,'` he said.

``The reward program would be a good tool, if the commanders in the field use it correctly,'` said retired Army Master Sgt. Orval Prunk of El Paso, who served with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, a former Fort Bliss unit, during the 1991 gulf war. ``But, I think the Iraqis will start opening up anyway, once they feel safe from Saddam, and they will help us find them.'`

Saturday was the last day the International Committee of the Red Cross had contact with the Iraqi government about the American POWs. Since the fall of Baghdad on Wednesday, Red Cross officials have been unable to reestablish contact with a representative of the Iraqi government.