Identifying U.S. troops returned from
North Korea may be challenging: experts
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[June 23, 2018]
By Daphne Psaledakis
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military
will face a difficult task in identifying the remains of soldiers
missing from the Korean War as the Pentagon prepares to receive them
from North Korea in coming days, officials and experts said.
U.S. President Donald Trump, who met with North Korean leader Kim Jong
Un at an historic summit in Singapore this month, said on Thursday that
Pyongyang was in the process of returning the remains of U.S. troops
missing from the 1950-1953 conflict.
The Pentagon has said North Korean officials have indicated in the past
they have the remains of as many as 200 U.S. troops, and Trump himself
has mentioned that figure.
U.S. officials expect the remains to be handed over to United Nations
Command in South Korea at Osan Air Base near Seoul then transferred to
Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii.
Once in Hawaii, forensic experts will face the challenge of identifying
the remains. Among the techniques they could use are detective work with
old photos, comparing DNA from remains to that of missing soldiers'
relatives and analysis of dental work.
A U.S. official familiar with the process said the remains could be
co-mingled - meaning not separated by individual - and could include
people who were not American.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it could take
months and even years to identify the remains.
Cases of co-mingled remains are the most difficult because they require
identifying which skeletal fragments belong to the same person, said
Luis Fondebrider, president of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team,
a non-governmental group that applies forensic science to investigate
human rights violations.
The degree that bones have broken down is also important, and
deterioration, such as from being under soil, can affect whether DNA can
be recovered, he said.
Remains that North Korea has handed over in the past have not always
been identifiable as U.S. troops, despite the dog tags North Korea
handed over with them, according to a 1994 RAND Corporation research
[to top of second column]
North Korean soldiers carry a coffin believed to contain the remains
of a U.S. soldier to the border with South Korea during repatriation
ceremonies at the truce village of Panmunjom, South Korea, October
9, 1998. REUTERS/Yun Suk Bong/File Photo
Between 1990 and 1992, North Korea returned 46 sets of remains,
according to the report.
"With no exception, every North Korean claim associated with human
remains has shown to be false. For example, these 46 sets are
actually fragments of more than 70 individuals," the report said.
Forensic analyses suggested none were American, the report said.
Richard Downes, whose father went missing in the Korean War and is
president of the Coalition of Families of Korean & Cold War
POW/MIAs, was optimistic the Trump-Kim summit would lead to the
return of more remains.
"But we've seen this before, and that was words on a paper and
promises made, so now we have to see action," he said.
A more effective way of repatriating remains is to have a joint
mission between U.S. researchers and the North Korean military,
The United States conducted joint recovery operations from 1996 to
2005. That method enabled U.S. researchers to keep the remains more
intact and to glean clues from their surroundings.
About 7,700 U.S. military personnel still remain unaccounted for
from the 1950-53 Korean War, U.S. military data show. More than
36,500 U.S. troops died in the conflict.
(Additional reporting by Idrees Ali; editing by Yara Bayoumy and
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