North Korea recently returned the remains of 55 U.S. soldiers that participated in the Korean War. However their identification could take from months to several years, according to a U.S. defense official.
The reason? The DPRK only sent a single dog tag with the remains, with no additional information.
“Other than a single dog tag, the Korean People's Army did not provide further information on where they recovered the remains or any other information," the official told CNN.
"Based upon previous experiences with this type of turnover from the DPRK, most of the remains will take many months to a few years to identify," the official added.
The last time such remains were secured was in 2007, when former UN Ambassador Bill Richardson secured six sets.
However, there is a huge possibility that the remains sent might not belong to U.S. soldiers. Many countries fought in the Korean War and the remains, with minimal information, could very well belong to any of those nations.
"We don't know who's in those boxes. As we discover it, they'll be returned and they could -- and they could go to Australia. They have missing, France has missing, Americans have — there's a whole lot of us," Secretary of Defense James Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon.
But Mattis said this return would possibly grant U.S. soldiers’ families a chance for closure.
“What we're seeing here is an opportunity to give those families closure, to make certain that we continue to look for those remaining,” he said.
The repatriation of the remains was one of the four asking points of the highly criticized “contract” between President Donald Trump and North Korean despot Kim Jong Un at the Singapore summit on June 12.
The return is symbolic as it comes at the anniversary of the de facto end of the Korean War — which ended 65 years ago.
Trump thanked the North Korean leader in a tweet for the return.
The Remains of American Servicemen will soon be leaving North Korea and heading to the United States! After so many years, this will be a great moment for so many families. Thank you to Kim Jong Un.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 27, 2018
Vice President Mike Pence will attend a special ceremony at the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, where he will welcome the returned remains after which they will be sent for identification.
VP and Mrs Pence arrive at @Andrews_JBA via Marine Two and are escorted to board Air Force Two for flight to NYC where @VP will address @DHSgov Cybersecurity Summit. Tonight, the Pences head to Hawaii for Wednesday return of MIA remains from North Korea. pic.twitter.com/atrP67Tkk4— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) July 31, 2018
Although Trump administration has hailed this as a huge step towards North Korea’s denuclearization — which was the ultimate goal of the Trump-Kim summit — experts are not celebrating just yet.
“That the regime could return 55 remains so quickly confirms that it has been holding them to serve as negotiating bargaining chips. Some reports suggest North Korea has held hundreds of remains for decades,” said Bruce Klingner, a former CIA official in the Koreas and now an expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “North Korea has not, however, taken any steps to begin denuclearization as it promised to do.”
Trump previously — falsely — declared 200 of the U.S. service members’ remains had been returned in June. While now the return has been made, it is yet to be seen if it will bring closure to the families of the fallen — a feat that could take years.
Thumbnail/ Banner Credits: U.S. Army/ Sgt. Quince Lanford/Handout via REUTERS