Delhi approves US request to recover hundreds of second World War dead

Sat, Jun 9, 2012, 01:00

INDIA HAS permitted the US to recover the remains of several hundred of their military aviators who crashed in its remote northeast region during the second World War, while undertaking hazardous missions over the Himalayas against the Japanese.

“I am pleased to announce that the Indian government will allow a team to search for US service members lost here during World War Two,” said US defence secretary Leon Panetta during a two-day visit to New Delhi this week.

Returning the fallen to their loved ones was something the US deeply appreciated, he said. The US believed in leaving none of its dead behind, he added.

Bureaucratic “impediments” had disrupted US efforts to recover the remains of hundreds of veterans who crashed in US air force warplanes in the 1940s in India’s thickly-forested Arunachal Pradesh state, which borders Tibet and Burma.

The route, known as the hump, because of the 4,570m-high (15,000ft) ridges – which the rudimentary aircraft had to navigate with little or no instrumentation in winds of more than 160km/h (100mph) – came to be known as the “aluminium trail” due to the number of wrecks that marked its path.

Over decades families of the dead pilots and teams from the US Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command (Jpac) in Honolulu have successfully identified several of the crash sites.

The group executes investigation and recovery missions for deceased and missing American military personnel.

It is a joint task force within the US department of defence, whose mission is to account for all Americans listed as prisoners of war or missing in action from all past wars and conflicts.

Jpac estimated that the remains of between 400 and 500 US pilots lay scattered across the mountainous region and it wants them repatriated for burial.

Some of the crash sites, however, were located on the Burmese side of the border and were not accessible to US reconnaissance teams.

But US requests in 2010 and last year to the Indian government to dispatch teams to retrieve the remains had, for “inexplicable bureaucratic” reasons not been sanctioned.

Indian defence ministry officials declined to comment on what these “impediments” were but privately conceded that India was sensitive to foreigners, especially US army personnel, roaming around freely in the region.

Arunachal Pradesh, like some other adjoining northeastern states – many of them wracked with insurgencies – remains closed to foreigners, particularly US nationals.

All outsiders require special protected area permits that are not easy to obtain.

Arunachal is also claimed by the Chinese as part of Southern Tibet in a long-running territorial dispute with India.

And officials hinted that Delhi’s sensitivity to Beijing’s concerns could also be the reason for not permitting the Jpac entry to the region.