After a military dog cornered the Islamic State’s leader in a tunnel in northern Syria on Saturday, U.S. officials repeatedly insisted that his identity remain secret. The dog was slightly wounded when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi killed himself with an explosive, they said, and revealing his name before he recovered and returned home could reveal too much about his classified unit in the Army’s Delta Force.
The dog is apparently still in the Middle East, but his identity is no longer an official secret.
Trump’s message came after days of intrigue around the heroic canine, a frenzy carefully fueled by a commander in chief notorious for his personal distaste for man’s best friend. He stoked that fire yet again on Wednesday by tweeting an edited photo that replaced a Medal of Honor recipient with the dog.
In a tweet sent just after midnight on Thursday, Trump complimented the Daily Wire, the conservative publication behind that image, and promised to honor the real canine in person.
It’s unclear why the previously classified name is now safe for public consumption. But it seems certain that Trump will relish Conan’s eventual moment in the spotlight at the White House — even as he is the first president in a century without a dog of his own.
Trump first hinted that a dog had played a key role in capturing Baghdadi during a meandering, 40-minute news conference on Sunday announcing the Islamic State leader’s death. After first slamming Baghdadi by saying he “died like a dog,” Trump’s canine rhetoric took a sharp turn as he lamented how a U.S. military dog had been wounded in the raid in Syria’s Idlib province.
“Our canine, I call it a dog, a beautiful dog, a talented dog, was injured and brought back,” he said, describing how the canine chased Baghdadi into the tunnel where the ISIS leader later died after detonating a suicide vest.
As reporters scrambled for more information on the brave creature, they hit a surprising wall: Military officials refused to disclose anything about his identity, beyond confirming his breed, Belgian Malinois. Making the dog’s name public could also identify the soldiers that worked with the animal, they said.
“We’re not going to release just yet photos or names of dogs or anything else,” Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters midday on Monday.
A few hours later, though, Trump took the initiative, tweeting out a photo of the dog and praising him for doing a “GREAT JOB.”
While Newsweek reported soon afterward that the dog was named after comedian Conan O’Brien, the Pentagon steadfastly refused to confirm those details.
Despite the edited photo tweeted out by Trump, whenever Conan does visit the White House, he probably won’t receive a Purple Heart or valor medal. While the United States once awarded military dogs with such honors, the practice stopped amid concerns it diminished the heroism of humans, The Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe reported.