If you were reading this website on Monday, you were among the first to learn an exclusive story: that an elite Navy SEALs dog helped out in the covert raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound the night before.
(By now word has spread far and wide about the “Bin Laden dog,” with Dogster, Gothamist, Salon, even The New York Times and the Huffington Post all picking up the story.)
I haven’t been able to pin down specific information about the exact dog — or even the breed — used in this mission. But Ron Aiello of the United States War Dogs Association tells me in an interview that “The three breeds that are used today are German Shepherd, Belgian Malinois and Labrador Retrievers.”
Military working dogs (yes, they even have their own acronym: MWDs!) can be extremely valuable in reconnaissance and search and rescue missions and in the capture of enemy forces; and as we reported earlier, special ops dogs are sometimes outfitted in high-tech war gear.
Here’s what Aiello tells me:
“The Military Working Dogs would give you an edge, especially on a night mission. Visibility is not too good for the troops, even with night vision goggles, so this is where your dog is the asset, sounds and smell. The dog can hear sounds that a human can’t hear and is trained to smell explosives, such as IEDs [improvised explosive devices], booby traps — which a human can’t see.”
Starting in WWII
The U.S. military first officially used canines during World War II. According to the website Olive-Drab, there was an immense increase in the number of dogs used by the military after 9/11. The New York Times reports that around 600 of the dogs are now in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Slate says there are roughly 2,700 total in the U.S. military.
Today the K-9s of the armed forces are credited with saving untold thousands of lives in various conflicts over the past few decades.
John Burnam, author of a book called A Soldier’s Best Friend, says, “No one knows how many lives have been saved” by the dogs, but his guess is “many thousands, hundreds of thousands since World War II.”
A Military Working Dog Teams National Monument is now in the works, awaiting funding for a dedication in 2012. The memorial is slated to be on the grounds of the new Army Museum near Washington.
It’s very cool that a dog assisted in the Bin Laden raid (even if its identity is shrouded in military secrecy). The New York Times says this four-legged service member is perhaps “the nation’s most courageous dog.” But let’s not forget that this single dog is just one of hundreds of canine heroes that are filling critical needs and saving lives every day.