Captured British dog of war paraded in Taliban propaganda video
British canine, captured in December battle, paraded in propaganda video
In the annals of prisoner-of-war videos, it seems to be a first. A slightly befuddled dog appears on a leash, surrounded by heavily armed, bearded men boasting of their battlefield captive.
Wearing a black protective vest, the Belgian malinois wags its tail at certain points and appears more confused than terrified as its captors show off captured weaponry and a global positioning device with a blinking light that they say came attached to the canine.
"Allah gave victory to the mujahideen!" one of the fighters exclaims. "Down with them, down with their spies!"
A link to the video was posted this week on the Twitter account of a user who often disseminates Taliban propaganda. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the dog was captured after a long firefight between coalition forces and Taliban fighters in the Alin Nigar district of Afghanistan's Laghman province in late December. The dog, he said in a telephone interview on Thursday, carried the rank of colonel and was outfitted with sophisticated electronic devices.
"The dog was of high significance to the Americans," he said.
Coalition military dogs are given ranks that make them senior to their handlers, a practice designed to ensure that the humans treat the animals with deference. They have a rank patch on their body armour.
Coalition spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Will Griffin confirmed the force lost a military working dog during an operation in December. He did not provide further details. Pentagon officials said they could recall no prior instance of a military working dog being taken captive.
The dog was attached to a British special forces unit that was engaged in a fatal firefight on December 23, according to a military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Also featured in the Taliban video are two M-4 assault rifles with scopes that are commonly used by special operations forces in Afghanistan.
The video caught the attention of analysts at the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks and studies insurgent propaganda.
"I don't remember seeing a dog used as a hostage," group founder Rita Katz said.
US Special Operations troops often use the Belgian malinois, a breed favoured for its light weight, agility and endurance. They are trained to parachute and rappel with their handlers. Some are trained to sniff out explosives; others learn how to find drugs. In Afghanistan, dogs are often used to search compounds that might be rigged with explosives before humans move in.
The use of dogs in combat missions has been one of the grievances Afghan President Hamid Karzai has raised with his foreign benefactors. Many Muslims worry that being around the animals makes them impure and unfit to pray.
"Maybe the dog was released to attack or search off-leash and the dog never returned," said Kevin Dredden, a former US Air Force dog handler and Afghanistan veteran.
One thing was certain, Dredden said. "I know for sure the handler is devastated," he said.