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Everything you need to know about the specialist dog that tracked Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Except its name. That's still secret

The dog who tracked down Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, tweeted out by U.S. President Donald Trump on Oct. 28, 2019.
The dog who tracked down Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, tweeted out by U.S. President Donald Trump on Oct. 28, 2019.

On Saturday the United States orchestrated the biggest hit on a terrorist since the killing of Osama bin Laden, yet all anyone can talk about is a dog that played a key role in Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death. And we don’t even know its name.

After U.S. special forces reached the ISIL leader’s compound in northwestern Syria, al-Baghdadi is reported to have grabbed three of his children and fled into an underground tunnel.

“He reached the end of the tunnel, as our dogs chased him down,” U.S. President Donald Trump said Sunday. “He ignited his vest, killing himself and the three children.  His body was mutilated by the blast. The tunnel had caved in on it, in addition.”

The only casualty from the entire, daring raid: a “beautiful” and “talented” dog, according to Trump. Later taken back to an undisclosed base to recover from injuries, here’s what we know about the dog so far.

What role might the dog have played in the raid on al-Baghdadi’s compound?

Military working dogs are highly specialized canines trained to detect explosives and stop a suspect before they can attack. It’s likely that after Delta Force raided the compound, the dogs corralled al-Baghdadi into the dead-end tunnel where he was to die.

Jim Slater of dog outfitter K-9 Storm, which equips such dogs around the world, told the Washington Post that each dog normally receives their own custom harness so that they can fast-rope from aircrafts, parachute and be placed into crawl spaces.

The dogs are often equipped with waterproof body armour which is resistant to bullets, shrapnel and knife attacks, according to an ABC News report from 2011, which looked at the animals used in the bin Laden takedown. As well, they’re often equipped with an infrared, night-vision camera and a microphone. All this lets the handler to see what the dog sees, and give the dog commands.

Even though Trump released a declassified photo of the dog, why must the name remain classified?

Some have called the move to keep the dog’s name a secret absurd, but there’s a really good reason for that, according to retired soldier, Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling. On Tuesday, as speculation on the reasons for such secrecy swirled, the regular media commentator tweeted that if the dog’s name is revealed, one could find out the name of the dog’s handler. If the handler’s name is known, one could find out his or her unit. Once the unit is known, one could determine which Delta units headed the al-Baghdadi mission. Simple, see?

Why did Delta Force use a specific breed of dog, the Belgian Malinois?

The most used breeds are the German Shepherd, Dutch Shepherd and Belgian Malinois. Though German Shepherds are also used in operations like the one that took down the ISIL boss, the Belgian Malinois is a stockier, smaller type of dog, which makes it ideal when special forces troops are parachuting out of an aircraft. As well, these dogs have shorter coats, which makes them better-adapted to the hot climates found in the Middle East. The breed is also known for having astute intelligence, power, obedience and ferocity.

Now that you mention it, wasn’t a Belgian Malinois used in the raid that killed bin Laden?

The dog didn’t technically kill bin Laden, but a Belgian Malinois named Cairo, along with a translator and four Navy SEALs secured the perimeter of the al-Qaida leader’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Cairo was used to sniff out any bombs and, possibly, bin Laden himself.

We’ve heard that military work dogs actually hold ranks. Is that a thing?

Indeed they do, at least in a perhaps-non-binding sense. And for an interesting reason. Traditionally, the dogs hold the rank of a noncommissioned officer (NCO) and outrank their handlers — in order to prevent the animals’ mistreatment.

“That’s out of respect,” Sgt. Regina Johnson said, according to a recent post on the U.S. army website . “I see it all the time, especially in these young handlers. They make the mistake of thinking they’re actually in charge. You’ve got to tell them, ‘Hold up. That dog has trained 100 students. That dog is trying to tell you something.’ I think the tradition grew out of a few handlers recognizing the dog as their partner.”

How long have dogs been used in the army?

Dogs have been used by the U.S. military as far back as the Second World War, and possibly way before that too, though their tasks back then were much less complicated when compared to today. In those days, they were commonly used for sniffing out the enemy, alerting their handler to danger or scouting out positions of attack.

As training methods have advanced and the type of breeds used have became narrower, dog duties have become more specialized. Often, they focus on highly specific explosives or narcotics detection.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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