US assaults militants in Iraq believed to be linked to May kidnappings

Hundreds of American and Iraqi troops backed by helicopters descended on a remote desert area southwest of Baghdad to root out al-Qaida in Iraq and search for two US soldiers missing after a deadly insurgent ambush six months ago. Acting on intelligence, the soldiers dug Friday with shovels through heaps of sand and went house-to-house after a dramatic pre-dawn air assault into two Sunni villages near the boundary with Anbar province. US officers said there was no sign of the missing soldiers but stressed it was only the first day of the operation dubbed Marne Courageous, which also aimed to establish a long-term presence west of the Euphrates River in a former al-Qaida stronghold.