Military dog captured by Taliban in Afghanistan

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In the annals of prisoner-of-war videos, this seems to be a first. A slightly befuddled Belgian Malinois appears on a tight leash, surrounded by heavily armed, bearded men boasting of their battlefield loot.

Wearing a black protective vest, the dog wags its tail at certain points and appears more confused than terrified as its captors showcase specialized rifles 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 mujahideen valorously put tough resistance against the troops for hours," he said in a phone interview Thursday. The dog, he said, carries the rank of colonel and was outfitted with sophisticated electronic devices. "The dog was of high significance to the Americans," he said.

Lt. Col. Will Griffin, a spokesman for the international military coalition in Afghanistan, confirmed in an email Thursday that 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 canine was attached to a British special forces unit engaged in a fatal firefight Dec. 23, according to a military official who confirmed the dog's nationality on condition of anonymity because the British Defense Ministry has chosen not to do so.

Also featured in the video are two M-4 assault rifles with scopes 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. The group's founder, Rita Katz, said she could not recall anything like it. "I don't remember seeing a dog used as a hostage," she said after checking her database. She said the only time canines were featured in insurgent propaganda was in Iraq, when insurgents once proposed using them as unsuspecting suicide bombers.

U.S. Special Operations troops often use the Belgian Malinois, a breed favored 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 narcotics. In Afghanistan, canines 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 hold a dim view of canines and worry that being around the animals makes them impure -- thus unfit to pray.

Few Afghans keep them as pets, although many groom the animals for dogfighting, a popular gambling sport banned by the Taliban but now popular again.

Military working dogs have been killed in bombings and shootings in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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 armor.


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