U.S. military forensic scientists have confirmed the first two American service members returned in 55 boxes of human remains from North Korea in July, according to analysts in charge of the investigation.
The Pentagon is withholding the names of the troops until their relatives can be notified in the coming days, John Byrd, director of scientific analysis at the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), told Reuters.
The military’s forensic anthropologists say both service members were killed in late 1950 near the Chongchon River, in present-day North Korea. That area saw some of the most intense combat of the Korean War — about 1,700 of the roughly 7,700 U.S. troops still unaccounted for are thought to have been lost there, according to Jennie Jin, the head of DPAA’s Korean War Project.
Of the 55 boxes sent to DPAA, investigators have so far conducted tests on 23 to determine which contain potential identifying information, the Wall Street Journal reported. The remains from the other 32 boxes haven’t been tested yet, and doctors do not know how many service members will ultimately be identified among the entire group.
Pyongyang returned the 55 boxes following a June 12 summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on the issue of denuclearization. The White House touted the return as a major breakthrough in bilateral relations, though nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have bogged down since then. (RELATED: Trump Cheers On Kim Jong Un After North Korea Downplays Nukes During Parade)
More than six decades after the end of the Korean War, the recovery of missing U.S. service members remains a daunting task. About 5,300 of the missing are thought to have been killed above the 38th Parallel, the current border between North and South Korea, and many of them sit at remote aircraft crash sites or are buried in unmarked graves.
Defense Secretary James Mattis has broached the possibility of sending recovery teams to North Korea, depending on progress in ongoing nuclear talks. If the Pentagon were able to send a team, it would be the first time since 2005, when Washington halted a search program that had been set up in the 1990s.
DPAA has family-reference DNA samples for 92 percent of the Korean War service members still missing, according to TheWSJ.
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