President Donald Trump said Wednesday night that the repatriation of the remains of U.S. troops listed as missing from the Korean War has already begun. However, military officials who would assist in the work of repatriating these troops have yet to confirm any movement on their promised return.
"We got back our great fallen heroes, the remains sent back today, already 200 got sent back," Trump told a cheering crowd at a rally in Duluth, Minnesota, Reuters reported.
The White House transcript of the event quoted Trump as saying "We got back our fallen heroes, the remains."
It was not immediately clear what Trump meant by "sent back," or where the process stood in terms of delivering the remains into the custody of the U.S. military, but the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the return was imminent and could involve more than 250 sets of remains.
The Journal's report, citing a U.S. official, said that Army Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, was likely to preside at a solemn repatriation ceremony at Osan Air Base south of Seoul.
Randall Schriver, the assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, said Thursday at the annual conference of the National League of POW/MIA Families that he has been working closely on arranging for repatriations with Kelly McKeague, director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).
Schriver, who represented the Pentagon at talks with the North Koreans in the Demilitarized Zone and at the Singapore summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last week, said the U.S. had a plan in place for repatriations.
"We're ready to go as soon as we get agreement on the part of the North Koreans," he said.
"I'm very confident that this is one we can move out quickly on," Schriver continued in his speech. "We think they have 200 or so box sets of remains and we hope there's a unilateral repatriation soon."
In a statement Monday, DPAA said that DPRK officials had in the past indicated that had up to 200 sets of recovered remains in their possession.
"The commitment established within the Joint Statement between President Trump and Chairman Kim would repatriate these as was done in the early 1990s and would reinforce the humanitarian aspects of this mission," DPAA said.
Once the remains are returned, they were to be transferred to Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii and the DPAA's Central Identification Laboratory for the painstaking and lengthy process of identification for the return of the remains to the families.
Spokesmen for DPAA were not immediately available for comment on Trump's remarks but said Tuesday that DPAA had yet to be notified to prepare for returns.
At the Pentagon Wednesday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that discussions on the return of remains were "ongoing right now, but I don't have any updates for you. I know that we're engaged on it."
At the Singapore summit, Trump and Kim signed a joint declaration committing to the "immediate repatriation" of already identified POW/MIA remains of U.S. troops.
According to DPAA, more than 7,800 Americans have not been accounted for from the Korean War.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.