Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Teams embark on
new effort to find
Vietnam War remains

By B.J. Reyes
Associated Press

Two teams from the Army's Joint Task Force-Full Accounting left for Southeast Asia this month in search of remains from those missing in action from the Vietnam War, an Army official said.

One team of 50, mostly Hawaii-based military specialists and anthropologists, left this week for Cambodia, where it will conduct three recovery operations, said Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara. a JTF-FA spokesman. Another team of about 50 specialists deployed Feb. 4 to Laos.

"We'll also send some investigators to run down leads," O'Hara said. "If they're successful, they'll set up future recovery operations."

Teams in Cambodia will search for personnel missing from three aircraft incidents -- two Air Force, one Navy -- that occurred between April 1969 and March 1972, O'Hara said.

"They all leave with high expectations of bringing somebody back," O'Hara said. "The fact of the matter is, that doesn't always happen."

The task force works in cooperation with the Army's Central Identification Lab Hawaii, CILHI, to recover and identify remains brought back from overseas.

Since 1992, when the Joint Task Force was established, 325 sets of remains have been identified, O'Hara said. More than 500 sets of remains have been recovered.

Most recently, six sets of remains believed to be those of American servicemen who died during the Vietnam War were returned to U.S. soil, on Dec. 11.

After recovered remains are brought back to the United States, the Central Identification Lab at Hickam Air Force Base works to identify them.

"When we have a repatriation ceremony and we bring somebody back, that's when the healing process takes hold and the family can start to have closure," O'Hara said.

The Joint Task Force concentrates on recovering remains from the Vietnam War, while CILHI personnel, who also deploy on recovery operations, focus on Americans missing in action all over the world.

"Presently, we stand at 1,945 missing as a result of war in Southeast Asia," O'Hara said. "We're also looking for some civilians -- missionaries, some (Department of Defense) civilians, some contractors and journalists."

Isle lab not likely to ID Afghan remains

Remains recovered from last week's U.S. missile attack in Afghanistan are not likely to be brought to Hawaii for identification by the Army's Central Identification Lab, an official said yesterday.

The lab, located at Hickam Air Force Base, works to identify remains recovered at overseas sites from past conflicts.

"We deal with ancient remains," spokeswoman Ginger Couden said. "We do it if we're asked to assist, but we haven't been asked to assist in any identification."

She said the identification work was more likely to be led by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C.

Some Afghans have claimed that the Feb. 4 attack from a CIA-operated Predator spy drone killed civilians rather than members of the Taliban or al-Qaida. Those claims have been disputed by Pentagon officials who said evidence recovered from the site indicates the victims were not innocent civilians.

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