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 flight 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.
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 is 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 will return 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 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.
Australia's forensic team head Simon Walsh said it was likely to be months before the identification process was complete.
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