Explained: How the US will recover remains of 400 of its soldiers missing in India

Written by Vaibhav Jha
, Edited by Explained Desk | Ahmedabad |

June 6, 2021 1:51:18 pm

Gandhinagar-based National Forensic Sciences University (NFSU) has tied up with US’s Department of Defense (DOD) to recover and identify the remains of over 400 missing US military personnel in India during World War II.

What does the partnership mean?

In a video-conference meeting held on May 27, the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency (DPAA) under the DOD of USA, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the NFSU and University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) under which a team from DPAA will visit India to trace, recover and identify the remains of over 400 US Army and US Air Force personnel who went “missing in action” (MIA) during the penultimate years of World War II.

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What is DPAA?

DPAA is an agency working under the Department of Defense of the US, formed in 2015 as an umbrella organisation with the merger of multiple agencies. Primarily, its task is to trace the remains of any US army personnel who has gone MIA or are Prisoners of War (POW) in past conflicts of WW II, Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War and Iraq offensive. The DPAA is in constant touch with the families of those missing. As per DPAA, the agency is currently trying to trace more than 81,800 missing personnel.

The India partnership

There will be eight such exercises of DPAA or similar agencies under DOD in India limited to northeast states. Recovery missions by the US have been conducted in India since 2008 in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland and Tripura. In 2016, a team of DPAA and the Anthropological Survey of India found some evidence of remains of US Army personnel.

According to DPAA, the remains of six personnel of the US military have been identified in India while 306, believed to have died in the country, remain unaccounted for so far. The agency, however, believes the number could be above 400 in India.

How does DPAA carry ‘personnel accounting’ of past conflicts?

The DPAA ties up with host countries and depending on the topography, terrain challenges and weather, it formulates a timespan to conduct its operations. The agency first sends a research and investigation team (RIT) to examine records and archives of the host country to get leads on the last whereabouts of the missing personnel. The RIT also does research in the marked areas to get an oral history from the military or locals regarding the past conflicts. Based on the findings of RIT, a team of anthropology and forensic science experts conduct on-site operations looking for aircraft wreckage remains or cemetery records of local areas. If the lead is confirmed, then sites are excavated and any human remains found are then sent to US-based laboratories for tests.

What will be the role of NFSU in the collaboration with DPAA?

Under the newly signed MoU, a team of forensic experts, including students from NFSU, will visit northeast states along with DPAA team, Anthropological Survey of India and local teams. This will be for the first time that NFSU will work on an anthropology case dating back 70 years. The task of identifying decomposed bodies or skeletons are done through odontology, meaning forensic dental examination and through forensic anthropology.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Dr Gargi Jani, project manager, NFSU, said, “The DPAA has signed an MOU with the NFSU to provide the fullest possible accounting for missing personnel to their families and US nation. Our role at the NFSU would be to assist the DPAA with our scientific and logistic capabilities.”

Why has NFSU been selected for the task?

The Gandhinagar-based NFSU is India’s premier forensic institute where forensic anthropology is integrated with forensic sciences and forensic odontology. The institute also boasts of a forensic odontology laboratory along with other equipment such as 3D scanners and printers.

The NFSU and Forensic Science Laboratory which come under Directorate of Forensic Sciences, Gujarat Government currently has 1,100 staff and offer services such as suspect detection system, computer forensics, narco analysis, polygraph examination, audio-video tape authentication system, BEOSP, integrated ballistics identification system, accredited ‘cow meat’ testing mobile laboratories, accredited mobile investigation vans and automated fingerprint identification system.

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