WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, suggested that China may be withholding information that prevents the Pentagon from locating the remains of missing U.S. personnel.
Sen. Ayotte made the suggestion while questioning the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) chief and the Pentagon’s assistant secretary for Asian-Pacific security affairs, about the Defense POW (Prisoner of War)/MIA (Missing in Action) Accounting Agency’s (DPAA) efforts to recover the remains of missing U.S. personnel.
“We do not want to ever forget and make sure that we can bring as much closure to our families and bring our soldiers home,” Sen. Ayotte told Navy Adm. Harry B. Harris, Jr., the PACOM commander, and Amb. David B. Shear, the Pentagon’s assistant secretary for Asian-Pacific affairs, during the Senate panel hearing on Thursday.
“China has a very important role here in helping us recover our fallen heroes,” noted Sen. Ayotte, chairwoman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support.
Adm. Harris acknowledged the importance of going after every POW/MIA case that exists, noting that the Pentagon needs to “continue to work with China and with North Korea and the other countries over which our fallen are from all the wars.”
Sen. Ayotte pointed out that the United States had reached an agreement with China to locate missing U.S. personnel but added that China was withholding information.
“We do have an agreement that was formalized with the Chinese, but at this point we’ve been somewhat stymied of getting information that they may have about Korean War POW camp records,” the senator told the Pentagon officials.
She went on to say that Michael Linnington, the DPAA director,“has or will be interacting with the Chinese government” about the Pentagon’s efforts to bring American service members back home.
When asked what the Obama administration was planning to do to facilitate communication between China and the DPAA, Amb. Shear repeatedly said he supports the agency’s efforts.
Shear did not specify what the administration was doing or planning to do to help the DPAA communicate with China.
“I strongly support the efforts of the [DPAA] to the fullest possible accounting of our missing personnel,” said Shear.
“As assistant secretary I hope to support, I support the efforts of the [DPPA]… I am aware of director Linnington’s efforts in regards to China and more broadly and I support those efforts in discussions with my counterparts,” he added.
Sen. Ayotte, citing Department of Defense statistics, said that more than 83,000 Americans are still considered missing in action — 73,000 from World War II, 7,800 from the Korean War, and 1,600 from the Vietnam war.
The Pentagon reorganized its recovery efforts and set up the DPAA in January 2015.
“One of the explicit purposes of this new organization is to effectively increase the number of missing service personnel accounted for,” noted Ayotte.
Prior to the formation of the DPAA, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) was charged with the recovery of missing service personnel. JPAC used to report to PACOM.
The DPAA now reports to a Pentagon agency.
In July, the Florida-based non-profit History Flight Inc., in coordination with DPAA, recovered the remains of 36 U.S. Marines who died in the bloody World War II Battle of Tarawa that took place in an isolated island in November 1943.
First Lt. Alexander Bonnyman, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military accolade, was among the recovered Marines.
History Flight told Breitbart News that several hundred U.S. Marines were lost and left behind by the military more than 70 years ago after the Battle of Tarawa.
Breitbart News learned that many of those U.S. heroes still lay in unmarked graves.
Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan, a DPAA spokeswoman, told Breitbart News that the Pentagon agency is actively searching for the missing remains of the several hundred Marines killed in the Battle of Tarawa as well as unaccounted for service members killed in other conflicts.