In the annals of prisoner-of-war videos, this seems to be a first. A slightly befuddled-looking 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. A 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 Thursday in an e-mail that the force lost a military working dog during an operation in December. He did not provide further details. Officials at the Pentagon 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 that was engaged in a fatal firefight on Dec. 23, according to a military official who confirmed the nationality of the dog on the 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 that are 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. The only time canines were featured in insurgent propaganda, Katz said, 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 that was banned by the Taliban but has become popular again.
Military working dogs have been killed in bombings and shootings in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Maybe the dog was released to attack or search off-leash and the dog never returned,” said Kevin Dredden, a former Air Force dog handler and Afghanistan veteran who works as a program manager at AMK9, a firm that trains dogs to work with law enforcement and military units. “Maybe it was unsafe for them to go back and find him.”
One thing is certain, Dredden said.
“I know for sure the handler is devastated,” he said, noting the tight bonds that handlers and military dogs forge.
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.
When President Obama visited Fort Campbell, Ky., to thank the elite troops who found and killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, the name of only one of the special operators was disclosed: Cairo, the team’s Belgian Malinois.
Sayed Salahuddin in Kabul contributed to this report.