America's Bravest Dogs
Sources tell PEOPLE that the commando raid on Osama Bin Laden included one four-footed “frontline biter” – a highly-trained special warfare dog that may have dropped out of the assault helicopter on a combat descent line similar to this one.
The dog on the Bin Laden mission was most likely a Belgian Malinois or a German shepherd, says a contractor who has worked alongside U.S. special warfare troops. “If it were a shepherd, it would have been a smaller canine – probably a female,” the contractor said.
Special operations dogs, like this patrol explosive detector dog working in Afghanistan, go through rigorous selection and training, much like their human counterparts, a source tells PEOPLE. “They are sent to a special site that is recognized as the best in the world,” the source says.
With each new batch of candidates, a field of 10 dogs is narrowed to one or two who are qualified for advanced training to become special ops. “Think of a hot-rod version of the dogs you saw crawling over the rubble at ground zero in New York City,” a source says.
The Navy SEAL dog involved in raiding Bin Laden’s compound most likely did not act as an attack dog. “The dog went along on the mission in case things went south,” a source tells PEOPLE.
There was always the chance that the assault would be overwhelmed by superior firepower on the ground in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Adds the source, “The dog was likely there to assist in an ad-hoc battle damage assessment.”
READY FOR COMBAT
Some 600 dogs currently are on duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, working alongside combat troops. They can chase, attack, sniff out explosives or people, and intimidate the enemy.
POOCH ON PATROL
Military dogs and their handlers can form a very tight bond while serving together, like this U.S. Marine and his dog Patrick, who were stationed in Afghanistan in 2009.
According to the New York Times, last year, the Navy SEALS purchased four waterproof tactical canine vests (which cost upwards of $80,000) with infared and night vision cameras that give their handlers a dog’s eye view of events.
When a dog drops out of a helicopter in the arms of its handler, both need to be ready to hit the ground running.