The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

With a tweet and photo, Trump feeds intrigue about a classified military dog in Baghdadi raid

President Trump tweeted this photograph of what he said was the military dog that was injured while tracking down Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (White House/AP)

In the midst of the raid targeting the leader of the Islamic State was this: at least one military dog that chased Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi into a tunnel before he detonated a suicide vest and died.

Intrigue about the dog began building after the president disclosed that Baghdadi died during a U.S. Special Operations raid and that the dog was injured. The raid was carried out by elite members of Delta Force and the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment, according to several U.S. officials with knowledge of the operation.

“Our canine, as they call — I call it a dog, a beautiful dog, a talented dog — was injured and brought back,” Trump said.

The Pentagon kept most details about the covert canine, including its name and background, on a tight leash. With nearly half of Americans owning a dog, according to a Gallup poll, it was unlikely that would last.

The “silent paw-fessional” would be thrust in the spotlight.

On Monday, Trump boosted the story, tweeting a declassified photograph of the furry special operator in an armored vest. In the image, its ears stand alert and its tongue hangs loose. It’s a male Belgian Malinois, one U.S. official said.

“We have declassified a picture of the wonderful dog (name not declassified) that did such a GREAT JOB in capturing and killing the Leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi!” Trump wrote.

The decision followed nearly a whole day of the Pentagon wrestling with how much to say about the prized pooch.

Three U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to sensitivity about the raid, said Monday that the dog’s identity was classified because of its affiliation with a classified unit. Releasing the name, they said, ran the risk of identifying the service members to which it was assigned.

By midday, the Pentagon’s top general was answering questions about the pup at a news conference.

“We’re not releasing the name of the dog right now,” said Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “The dog is still in theater.”

Milley, standing alongside Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, said the dog “performed a tremendous service, as they all do.” It was “slightly wounded and fully recovering” and had rejoined its handler.

“We’re not going to release just yet photos or names of dogs or anything else,” Milley said.

“Protecting his identity,” Esper interjected.

“Protecting the dog’s identity,” Milley agreed.

U.S. officials told several reporters the dog’s breed after the news conference. Its breed is common in Special Operations, where the Belgian Malinois is prized for its intelligence, athleticism and ferocity when required. Then came Trump’s tweet.

The dog’s participation in the operation adds a new hero to military lore. It follows in the paw prints of Cairo, who participated in the 2011 raid by Navy SEALs that killed Osama bin Laden, but dogs have served in the military for decades.

While the dog in the latest raid was wounded, it will not be eligible for a Purple Heart or valor medal. The U.S. military once recognized canines for such exceptional service but suspended the practice amid complaints that it diminished the service of humans, according to an Army history of military dogs. Other countries, such as Britain, still award dogs for valor.