Family members of the dead troops were not told of the practice, which emerged amidst anger over disclosures that other remains were lost and mishandled by mortuary officials at the base.
“We could have done it better,” Brig Gen Les Kodlick, an Air Force spokesman, said. Officials say the practice only applied to bone fragments and DNA material, not large body parts.
“The common practice was that any residual matter remaining after incineration was disposed of by the contractor in a landfill,” said Brig Gen Kodlick. The system was scrapped by the military in 2008.
The disclosures about the base were described as “disheartening and very unfortunate” by the National Military Families Association.
An officer and two civilian employees at the base have been disciplined as a result of an inquiry into the earlier disclosures.
A whistle-blower, who was fired, revealed that a dead marine’s arm was sawn off, without his family’s permission, to make his body fit into his uniform and that body parts had gone missing.
President Barack Obama was informed by Carolyn Lerner, the special counsel who led the inquiry, that it had discovered “substantial evidence of gross mismanagement, violations of rules and regulations, and a disturbing pattern of dishonesty and misconduct”.
Gen Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, said in a statement: “We can, and will, do better.” The force said the four families of the fallen troops involved had since been informed about what happened to their relatives’ remains.