Marines were on a foot patrol last fall in Marja, Afghanistan, when they shot and killed a lethal threat: a local dog that made the mistake of attacking the Marines’ Labrador retriever.
Captain Manuel Zepeda, the commander of Company F, Second Battalion, Sixth Marines, was unapologetic. If the Lab on the patrol had been hurt, the Marines would have lost their best weapon for detecting roadside bombs — and would have called for a medevac helicopter, just as they would for a human. An attack on the Lab was an attack on a fellow warrior.The classified canine that went on the Navy Seals’ raid of Osama bin Laden’s compound last week has generated a wave of interest in military dogs, which have been used by the United States since at least World War 1. Now, more valued than ever, they are on their own surge into Afghanistan.
American troops may be starting to come home this summer, but more dogs are going in. Over all, there are some 2,700 dogs on active duty in the American military.
Within the military, the breeds of choice are generally the German shepherd and a Belgian shepherd, or Malinois, but Marines in Afghanistan rely on pure-bred Labrador retrievers.
To an American public weary of nearly 10 years of war, dogs are a way to relate, as the celebrity status of the still-unknown commando dog proved. (President Obama is one of the few Americans to have met the dog, in a closed-door session with the Seal team last week.)