In Hanoi, Vietnam today senior defense officials concluded a series of high-level talks reviewing progress on cooperation on the issue of the fullest possible accounting of Americans missing in action from the war in Southeast Asia.
Led by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs Robert L. Jones, the delegation met with key vice ministers whose agencies work with American officials on POW/MIA accounting. Jones' discussions centered on the four broad areas related to achieving the fullest possible accounting against which Vietnam's level of cooperation on the issue is measured.
These areas include resolving discrepancy cases and live sightings, as well as conducting field activities; recovering and repatriating American remains; accelerating efforts to provide documents that will help lead to an accounting; and providing further assistance in implementing trilateral investigations with Laos.
He noted the increasing levels of commitment to this mission by the Vietnamese populace. "Citizens have approached U.S. teams," Jones said, "with information about American losses or burial sites." He cited such positive actions as an indicator of the Vietnamese government's improvements in staffing, responsiveness and professionalism. Jones urged the ministers to continue such improvements, with emphasis on working with neighboring governments to share POW/MIA related information. American, Vietnamese and Lao officials regularly investigate loss sites on the Vietnam-Laos border.
"The U.S. government," Jones said, "has noted significant improvement in the quantity and quality of Vietnamese unilateral investigations over the past year." Vietnamese unilateral teams have discovered new crash sites and provided valuable information on American remains as yet unidentified at the U.S. Army's Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii.
In an effort to assist the Vietnamese in resolving some of their cases, Jones announced that U. S. archivists have located U.S. Army records relating to burial sites of Vietnamese military casualties. He offered access to these records in the National Archives, and assistance in indexing and copying the records for return to Vietnam.
Last week, U.S. and Vietnamese representatives met in Da Lat, Vietnam, to assess the past 10 years of U.S.-Vietnamese joint activity. Leading that delegation was Brig. Gen. Terry L. Tucker, commander of the Joint Task Force-Full Accounting, headquartered at Camp Smith, Hawaii. Tucker joined Jones in Hanoi this week for the policy-level discussions with the Vietnamese ministers.
At the Da Lat meeting, both sides focused on improving the effectiveness of joint investigations and recoveries that began in 1988. U.S. teams were first granted access to Vietnam that year and returned with remains of Americans missing in action from the war. The JTF-FA is the Department of Defense agency that leads operations in Southeast Asia to resolve unaccounted-for cases there.
Over the past 10 years, U.S.-Vietnamese teams have conducted 2,000 case investigations, nearly 5,000 individual interviews and 300 site excavations in almost 1,000 cities and villages. They also examined more than 28,000 records and documents. With the identification of the remains of a U.S. Air Force officer last week, 505 Americans have been recovered and identified since 1973 from Indochina, with 2,078 still unaccounted-for of whom 1,549 are thought to be in Vietnam.
U.S. and Vietnamese delegates at Da Lat pledged to continue such cooperation in the future to include examining initiatives to make field operations more efficient. An example of this cooperation is clearing decades of thick jungle underbrush prior to the beginning of on-site excavations. Such clearing operations can take a day or two at every recovery operation.
Jones and Tucker plan to witness a repatriation ceremony tomorrow at Noi Bai Airport, Hanoi, at which the remains of American servicemen recently recovered in joint operations will be returned to American control.