So it should come as no surprise that among the 79 commandos involved in Operation Neptune Spear that resulted in Osama bin Laden's killing, there was one dog -- the elite of the four-legged variety. And though the dog in question remains an enigma -- another mysterious detail of the still-unfolding narrative of that historic mission -- there should be little reason to speculate about why there was a dog involved: Man's best friend is a pretty fearsome warrior.
Above, a U.S. soldier with the 10th Special Forces Group and his dog leap off the ramp of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter during water training over the Gulf of Mexico as part of exercise Emerald Warrior on March 1.
Tech. Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez, U.S. Air Force/ DoD
Daredevil dogs: The question of how the dog got into bin Laden's compound is no puzzle -- the same way the special ops team did, by being lowered from an MH-60s helicopter. In fact, U.S. Air Force dogs have been airborne for decades, though the earliest flying dogs accompanied Soviet forces in the 1930s.
Dogs usually jump in tandem with their trainers, but when properly outfitted with flotation vests they can make short jumps into water on their own. A U.S. Navy SEAL, Mike Forsythe, and his dog, Cara -- pictured above -- recently broke the world record for "highest man/dog parachute deployment" by jumping from 30,100 feet.
Courtesy K9 Storm Inc.
"When you're going on a mission," Dowling says, "a raid or a patrol, insurgents are sneaky -- they like to hide stuff from you. But a dog can smell them. .... [Think about] Saddam Hussein ... what if Osama had been [hiding] in a hole in the ground? A dog could find that. A dog could alert them to where he's hiding because of the incredible scent capabilities. ... You can only see what you can see. You can't see what you don't see. A dog can see it through his nose."
Above U.S. Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade wait for helicopter transport as part of Operation Khanjar at Camp Dwyer in Helmand Province in Afghanistan on July 2, 2009.
MANPREET ROMANA/AFP/Getty Images
It's not the gear that makes the dog: Military working dogs (MWDs in Army parlance) may not enjoy all the privileges of being full-fledged soldiers, but the U.S. military no longer considers them mere equipment. (The war dogs deployed to Vietnam during that conflict were classified as "surplus equipment" and left behind.) Today, MWDs are outfitted with equipment of their own -- a range of specialized gear that includes Doggles (protective eye wear), body armor, life vests, gas masks, long-range GPS-equipped vests, and high-tech canine "flak jackets."
Photo Courtesy of K9 Storm Inc.
In August 2010, The Register, a British online tech publication, reported that "top-secret, super-elite U.S. Navy SEAL special forces are to deploy heavily armoured bulletproof dogs equipped with infrared nightsight cameras and an 'intruder communication system' able to penetrate concrete walls." The article also reported that the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Group had "awarded an $86,000 contract to Canadian firm K9 Storm Inc. for the supply of 'Canine Tactical Assault Vests' for wear by SEAL dogs." The K9 catalogue boasts an array of high-tech canine devices, from storm lights to long lines and leads to an assortment of vests -- assault, aerial insertion, and patrol-SWAT -- which are rated from "excellent" to "good" in protecting the animal from harm due to everything from bullets to ice picks.
Photo Courtesy of K9 Storm Inc.
Above, a U.S. Army soldier trains an attack dog at Camp Forward Operating Base Wilson in Zari district in southern Kandahar province on Oct. 21, 2010.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Fierce protectors: Military dogs and their handlers often form deep bonds -- it's an essential part of the canine-handler relationship that is specifically built into their training regimen. The personal attachments are often so intense that it can take weeks of training before a dog can begin working with a new handler.
Not only are these dogs fierce assault weapons, they are loyal guardians.
When Private First Class Colton Rusk was shot after his unit came under Taliban sniper fire during a routine patrol in Afghanistan, Rusk's bomb-sniffing dog, Eli, crawled on top of his body, attacking anyone -- including Rusk's fellow Marines -- who tried to come near him. Rusk did not survive the assault, but Eli was granted early retirement so he could live with Rusk's family.
In the photo above, Staff Sgt. Erick Martinez, a military dog handler uses an over-the-shoulder carry to hold his dog, Argo II, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, on March 4. The exercise helps build trust, loyalty, and teamwork.
U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Allen Stokes
More remarkable still are vapor-wake dogs. Scientists at Auburn University's College of Veterinary Medicine have genetically bred and specially trained canines to not only detect stationary bombs or bomb-making materials, but identify and alert their handler to the moving scent of explosive devices and materials left behind in the air, say, as a suicide bomber walked through a crowd -- all without ever tipping off the perpetrator. While not as expensive as some military-trained dogs, the cost of breeding and training these dogs cost is not cheap at around $20,000 each.
Above, U.S. sergeant Matthew Templet and his bomb-sniffing dog Basco search for the explosives in an abandoned house in Haji Ghaffar village during a clearance patrol in Zari district of Kandahar province on Dec. 27, 2010.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
In October 2010, the Pentagon announced that after six years and $19 billion spent in the attempt to build the ultimate bomb detector technology, dogs were still the most accurate sniffers around. The rate of detection with the Pentagon's fanciest equipment -- drones and aerial detectors -- was a 50 percent success rate, but when a dog was involved it rose 30 percent.
DMITRY KOSTYUKOV/AFP/Getty Images
In February, Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos stated that he'd like to see "a dog with every patrol."
Above, U.S. Marines attached to 1st Battalion, 6th regiment, Charlie Company relax with their bomb-sniffing dogs Books and Good one in Huskers camp on the outskirts of Marjah in central Helmand on Jan. 25, 2010.
If you liked this article, subscribe to the feed by clicking the image below to keep informed about new contents of the blog: