“Your soldiers are in our hands,” runs the latest Internet message (with no photographic proof). “If you want your soldiers’ safety, do not search for them.” The military concedes that AQ’s probably got them, but I wonder if they’re not dead already. An American soldier has no incentive to let himself be taken hostage by jihadist degenerates; captivity means torture, beheading, and mutilation. Unless the three missing men were wounded or separated from their weapons when the ambush was sprung, they had every reason to fight to the end. In fact, it’s long been suspected that Tucker and Menchaca were killed during the initial firefight with jihadis and their bodies were dragged away to be abused (which is why no video has ever emerged of the two being executed). The same thing might have happened here, with the attackers grabbing a few corpses and heading for the hills before reinforcements arrived.

CNN expert Peter Bergen states the obvious:

Journalist and terrorism analyst Peter Bergen, talking to Rick Sanchez on “CNN Newsroom” on Sunday night, had a dire outlook, saying the group is looking for political capital, meaning that release through negotiations is “wishful thinking” and that the military must be thinking “rescue operation.”

Even if, as expected, this episode ends badly, some good has come from the rescue attempt.

Update: CSM thinks AQ has taken to higher profile operations like this one thanks in part to the squeeze from the surge and in part to the Sunni uprising against them in Anbar. Their currency has been devalued, and bombing a bridge — or the Iraqi parliament — gives them more bang for their buck while antagonizing the Shiites to put the Sunnis’ focus back on sectarian warfare.

New York Sun reporter Eli Lake is still in Iraq and has a nice piece today on the status of the war on AQ in Anbar:

“I see what I think is becoming a national trend, especially in areas influenced by Al Qaeda, where they have made inroads, and even in places where you see other forms of religious extremism, such as Jaish al-Mahdi, you have it from the South. It’s coming, it’s there,” Lieutenant Colonel Richard Welch said in an interview…

Sheikh Hussein, as well as other sheikhs interviewed for this piece, said the turning point for the tribes was in September when Al Qaeda in Iraq declared the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq, a shadow state that in pockets of the country has established Islamic sharia courts and tried to provide some social services. The declaration was a direct challenge to the centuries-old tribal system that has prevailed in most of Iraq. As a result, the terrorists once seen as allies against the American invaders have also come to be seen as invaders…

Sheikh Hussein summed it up: “We would like America, a friend, to rebuild the country. This is what we want, what the tribes want. But to stay here as a military force indefinitely is unacceptable.” For Sheikh Hussein, however, the prospect of a speedy exit is also unacceptable. At a luncheon at a home of one of his cousins, he asked this reporter, “Please, tell the Democrats for now to stop pressuring Bush.”

The question for the military now is whether to let the Sunni tribesmen form their own local militias-slash-police-forces to challenge AQ or, lest that evolve into warlordism, to integrate them into the national police force and Iraqi army. Lieutenant Colonel Kurt Pinkerton favors the latter approach:

“I did not want to build these tribal security forces,” Colonel Pinkerton said. “The tribes want to join the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police, but they want to stay where they are and patrol their own areas.”

At a meeting with the general of the police district that oversees Abu Ghraib, the American colonel boasted that he could muster 10,000 volunteers from the once-hostile tribes to join the national police and army. To date, he has a list of 1,300 volunteers whom he is trying to get the Iraqi security forces to accept.

The feeling isn’t universal, though: a formerly pro-war Iraqi blogger, Hammorabi, is now calling for a national uprising against the U.S. military.

Update: Ah, I’ve been wondering when they were going to drop this.

An al-Qaida front group that claims it has captured American soldiers warned the United States on Monday to stop searching for them and suggested it attacked the U.S. convoy as revenge for the rape and murder of a local teenager last year…

“You should remember what you have done to our sister Abeer in the same area,” the statement said, referring to five American soldiers who were charged in the rape and killing of 14-year-old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi and the killings of her parents and her younger sister last year.

Yeah, the jihadis who mutilated Tucker and Menchaca portrayed that incident too as revenge for the rape and murder of that poor girl. Oddly enough, though, they didn’t make the revenge claim until after the girl’s murder had already gained traction in the western media; their first few messages about T&M after they were kidnapped made no mention of the girl as having provided any motivation. What they did, in other words, was leverage an unrelated atrocity for propaganda value, as an excuse for their own savagery. And naturally some on the left happily played along. They’ll play along again now if and when the fate of the three missing troops is discovered.