fb-pixel Skip to main content

Dogs play essential role in chase of Baghdadi

WASHINGTON — The last moments of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s life were spent being chased down a dark underground tunnel by military dogs. The dogs that sprinted after him, President Trump said about the Islamic State leader’s death on Sunday, were only deterred by a suicide bomb that detonated inside Baghdadi’s vest, killing him and several children.

“He reached the end of the tunnel, as our dogs chased him down,” Trump said. “He ignited his vest, killing himself and the three children.”

In a graphic speech spent comparing Baghdadi to a whimpering and suffering animal,

Trump celebrated that no American lives had been lost. Not even a four-legged one.


“Our ‘K-9,’ as they call it,” Trump said, “I call it a dog. A beautiful dog — a talented dog — was injured and brought back.”

The soldiers who helped capture Baghdadi will no doubt be the subject of intense public interest going forward — and, if history holds, so will the dogs they used as their first line of defense.

After the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, the identity of the dog who aided a team of Navy SEALs when they pushed into the terrorist leader’s compound, a Belgian Malinois named Cairo, became the subject of rampant curiosity.

On Sunday, neither the White House nor the Pentagon would respond to request for details about the animals used in the pursuit of Baghdadi. But Ron Aiello, a retired Marine and president of the nonprofit US War Dogs Association, said in an interview that the dogs were probably one of two breeds: a German shepherd or a Belgian Malinois, two of the most common breeds deployed during similar military operations because of their strength and ability to sniff out explosives.

“If they’re leading the patrol,” Aiello said, “they want a dog that is not only an explosive detection dog but on command can be aggressive. On a mission like this you want a dog that can be aggressive when necessary.”


As the nature of terrorist attacks have changed in recent years to target airports, malls, and other public places, bomb-sniffing breeds — a list that also includes Labrador retrievers — have become a sought-after law enforcement and military tool.

Prices can exceed $25,000 per dog, and experts have long warned of a shortage. When they are used for military purposes, dogs like Cairo are often outfitted in their own protective gear, including waterproof vests with night-vision cameras that can be used by handlers to see what their dogs see.

A fully trained military dog can cost upward of $283,000, or as much as a sophisticated piece of weaponry, according to a Bloomberg analysis. But Aiello said that the right breeds were still more effective than humans or bomb-sniffing technology.

“We can’t replicate what they can do,” said Aiello, who in 1966 was part of one of the first Marine scout dog teams to be deployed to Vietnam. “They save lives every day over there leading patrols.”

Trump would not be the first commander in chief to be impressed by the heroic actions of a dog who helped military operatives capture a terrorist leader. A story by The New Yorker published a few months after the bin Laden raid described a fascinated President Barack Obama asking to meet Cairo.

“There was a dog?” Obama said during a meeting on the bin Laden operation, when he learned that Cairo was nearby. The president, distracted from his briefing, said, “I want to meet that dog.”


“If you want to meet the dog, Mr. President,” the squadron commander joked, “I advise you to bring treats.”

In the end, Obama met Cairo, who stayed muzzled.

Trump on Sunday did not go into detail about the soldiers who carried out the raid. Mark T. Esper, the defense secretary, said during an appearance on CNN that US soldiers had been injured during the operation, a statement that conflicted with Trump’s claim that only a dog had been injured.

“We had two minor casualties, two minor injuries, to our soldiers,” Esper said. “They’ve already returned to duty.”

In his speech, Trump alternated between his reverence for the dogs used in the raid and using the word “dog” as a slur he has reserved to describe a host of adversaries in subhuman terms.

“He died like a dog,” Trump said of Baghdadi. “He died like a coward. The world is now a much safer place.”