For now, Operation Bring Them Home has become Operation Wait and See.
While Prime Minister Tony Abbott reaffirmed his pledge to leave none of Australia's MH17 crash victims left abandoned in a foreign field, some of the dead may lie there for months to come, the operation to reunite them with their loved ones made impossible by the war raging over their temporary resting place.
In a ‘‘mission-not-yet-accomplished’’ visit to Australian troops in the Netherlands, Mr Abbott praised the work of the defence personnel who are about to return to Australia.
Their work was frustrated by fierce combat between government and separatist forces in Eastern Ukraine, which made the crash site too dangerous for forensic work and too risky for an armed security force.
"Operation Bring Them Home is not yet concluded," Mr Abbott told RAAF personnel at Eindhoven airbase on Monday.
Many of his audience were directly involved in bringing to The Netherlands the bodies so far recovered from the crash site by local emergency workers then subsequently by Dutch and Australian police teams.
"The first phase has been satisfactorily completed," Mr Abbott said. "(But) more can, and will, be done to ensure that no Australian is left untended in a foreign field."
It is unclear how many of MH17's 298 dead, including the 38 who called Australia home, are represented by the remains so far recovered from the crash site – and the experts involved in the identification process say it could take months to be sure.
In the meantime the ADF are flying recently-delivered Australian equipment back out of Ukraine, including trucks and police vehicles. Their C17 military planes are to be redeployed elsewhere in the world and the personnel returning to Australia.
Squadron leader Dean Bolton – who personally flew one of the missions to recover the bodies from Ukraine – said there was still work to be done and the 36th Squadron "are ready to do what needs to be done".
"A few people have already headed back to Australia and everyone who has gone home . . . has gone kicking and screaming because they want to be here as much as they can to help finish the mission," he said. "Everyone has taken personal pride (in their role)."
After Eindhoven, Mr Abbott visited Hilversum, the site of the long, painstaking forensic work identifying the dead from the remains returned from Ukraine.
He met the 35 Australian Federal Police experts working alongside the Dutch, using DNA, fingerprints and dental records to match remains to names.
His message after the meeting was one of "wait and see".
"Operation Bring Them Home still has quite a way to go," Mr Abbott said. "It's highly likely that we will want to go back (to the crash site) at some stage.
"Obviously our ability to go back in will depend very much on the security situation on the ground."
Mr Abbott said it was "possible that the security situation on the site in a month or two could be substantially different and if that's the case we will be able to conduct the thorough forensic search that we would like to conduct and in normal circumstances would be conducted on a site like this.
"Let's wait and see what the current search, the current recovery of remains turns up. Let's wait and see what develops in Eastern Ukraine. Let's wait and see what's possible in the weeks and months ahead," he said.
The identification work could not be rushed, he said, declining to say how many Australian had so far been identified.
The head of Australia's forensic team, Dr Simon Walsh, said it was likely to be months before the identification process was complete.
As bodies were identified families would be invited to come to the Netherlands to accompany them home, via Melbourne where they will be officially released to their families.
Another team of AFP officers is working in an international alliance trying to identify the particular people or groups responsible for shooting down MH17, and building evidence for a potential criminal action, possibly in The Netherlands.
Mr Abbott said it was already clear that a "heavy share of the responsibility" lay with Russia, which armed the separatists in Ukraine.
However he wanted to wait to see where the investigation led, as well as how things developed "in the next two or three months" before deciding whether Russia had a place on the G20.
Part of that test would be assessing Russia's co-operation in the investigation into the crash, he said.
Outside Hilversum barracks, where an impromptu floral tribute garden for the dead has grown, Mr Abbott laid his own bouquet tied with a ribbon saying "government and the people of Australia".
He chatted to some gathered, curious Dutch, including Susan Spanyaard who was staying nearby, on holiday, but who had lost a friend of a friend in the MH17 tragedy.
Mr Abbott told her the people on the plane had been treated with disrespect in Ukraine, and he was glad that the Dutch had more respect for the dead.
"He thanked us for that," she said. "It gives you a good feeling that he feels our pain with us. It's good to have him here."
Mr Abbott's final meeting of the day was with Dutch PM Mark Rutte – greeting him warmly with a "Mark so good to see you" at the leafy official residence in The Hague.
After the meeting the pair shared their affection with the gathered media, pledging months and years of co-operation.
"Our countries may be thousands of kilometres apart but we are united in grief," Mr Rutte said in Dutch.
He also echoed Mr Abbott's message of patience – that justice and closure would be a long road to be travelled together.
"We are putting our work on hold, but we are not stopping it," Mr Rutte said.
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