THE families of Aldershot troops fighting in Iraq are anxiously awaiting news of two soldiers who have gone missing in the south of the country.

Details of the unit and location of the missing men have not been released for operational reasons, although 16 Air Assault Brigade — which includes Aldershot’s 7 (Para) Royal Horse Artillery and 9 (Para) Squadron Royal Engineers — is known to have been in the region.

As the faces of captured US soldiers are flashed across the world’s media, there is a growing feeling of dread about what may have happened to the soldiers.

The men were part of a convoy which dispersed when it came under enemy fire. When the group reformed, the soldiers’ vehicle was empty.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: “I can confirm two British soldiers are reported missing following an attack on British vehicles in southern Iraq on March 23.

“The next of kin of the two soldiers have been informed of the situation.”

As this newspaper went to press, the search was on to find the soldiers, who could be in the desert hiding from Iraqi troops.

A Farnborough man, whose 21-year-old son is serving with 23 Royal Engineers in 16 Air Assault Brigade, last heard from his son two weeks ago.

He told the Mail: “They all got a last phonecall, which was good.

“He had been to a church service in the morning and then rang us and that is the last call we will receive now until communication systems are set up.”

A former military man who served for 24 years with 7(Para) RHA, he added: “I’m watching the news and trying to follow where he is.

“Knowing his job, I think he could be around Basra but really you’re dealing with the unknown.

“I didn’t want him to follow me but it’s what he wanted and he’s enjoying it.”

Aldershot troops have been operating in Southern Iraq, near to the country’s second key city of Basra.

Following the US Marines over the border on Saturday, members of 7 (Para) RHA have been involved in securing Iraq army positions in and around the Rumallah oilfields.

They have also come under attack from small groups of Iraqi resistance.

Manchester Evening News reporter Martin Dillon has been living alongside the unit and sent this report from the front line:

“I stayed in a shell scrape until F battery captain Grant Ingleton came to see me on his motorbike and said that Iraqi artillery had us within their range but we were fighting back well.

“I was then allowed to join one of the guns. I was given ear protectors and watched the men frantically loading the shells and firing.”

He continued: “Orders were barked out as the soldiers worked tirelessly to get the rounds fired before we could received any incoming fire.

“There was no air cover for the men but by 3am local time information came through that the Iraqis were holding white flags.”

In just a few days, Allied Forces have stormed Iraq and are within 100 miles of Baghdad.

Military chiefs are deter-mined to take the capital as swiftly as possible but, with Allied casualties mounting, the concern is that troops could get caught up in bloody street fighting.

A senior British defence official said: “We are looking towards Monday night or Tuesday for the ground offensive for Baghdad.

“We are dealing with difficult enemy. It will be a tough fight.”