They will descend from a helicopter, jump with parachutes, and take part in high-risk operations. Combat dogs have been introduced to service by the Commando Military Unit (CMU).
A year ago, the Commando Military Unit’s leadership decided to send one of their combat dogs to the mission in Afghanistan. The animal was ready: perfectly trained and in top physical shape. Service on the Afghan side of the Hindu Kush range was to be a test – the commandos wanted to see how the dog would behave during the long flight, in a different environment, and very different climate conditions.
In Afghanistan, within the ongoing “Resolute Support” mission, the dog served with the CMU operators, who train the local ATF-444 (Afghan Territorial Force) special police unit and, together with the Afghans, take part in special operations, such as locating and eliminating explosives storages. “Our expectations were confirmed. The dog participated in the training of ATF-444 policemen, and in operations. Its work helped to keep the soldiers taking part in the mission safe,” says Arek, the commander of the CMU task force. “F1 is the first combat dog to take part in a special operation. During its service in Afghanistan he repeatedly proved its effectiveness and led us to explosives storage areas,” proudly adds Lopez, operator and the dog’s handler. The animal passed the test with flying colors. Therefore, the CMU’s command decided that they will continue sending dogs with future Resolute Support rotations.
The American and the British army have the biggest number of combat dogs in service. Dogs are also used by Israeli, Norwegian, French, Belgian, Canadian, and Australian soldiers. The four-legged companions have proved themselves many times over, during, among others, ISAF’s mission in Afghanistan, where they worked with the American special forces, and “Geronimo” – one of the most famous special operations executed by the Navy SEALs in May 2011, targeted at Osama bin Laden.
In the Polish Armed Forces, combat dogs are still a novelty. The Military Unit GROM introduced them to service a few years ago. Later, they also appeared in the Commando Military Unit. However, organizing the K9 program in Lubliniec was not easy. There were plans to purchase dogs already in 2015, but for reasons beyond the unit’s control, they did not come to fruition. “Several years ago, the creator of the K9 program at GROM came to our unit with their dogs and operators. He showed us how dogs can be used by operators in their activities and confirmed our strong belief that the concept of creating a canine combat group in Lubliniec is justified,” admits Lopez, an operator with almost twenty years of experience, and for the last two years a combat dog handler.
The unit first invested in people. Several operators were sent to dog handler courses, and only then dogs were purchased. “In 2017, we succeeded in buying excellent dogs,” admits Arek, task force commander, adding that: “in organizing the K9 program, we used the knowledge of GROM soldiers, as well as the experience of foreign special forces units. However, we developed a new training program, adjusted to the specific character of our unit.” The task force commander also admits that conclusions drawn during foreign missions were the main reason why the unit finally decided to introduce military dogs. “Many operations executed in Afghanistan aimed at liquidating explosives storages or apprehending people connected with producing or planting bombs. We realized that dogs would be extremely helpful in such combat operations,” explains Arek.
Several Malinois Belgian Shepherds serve at the CMU. They are very fast, but also remarkably obedient. Even the most extreme fits of aggression can be suppressed by the handler within a second. The canine troops that serve at the CMU are truly extraordinary. There are very few dogs in Europe with such qualifications confirmed by exams. “We decided to train multi-purpose dogs. Each dog is specialized in three areas: biting, searching for explosives, and tracking people. These skills can be very useful during special operations, but also in crisis situations in the country,” says the task force commander.
Strong Like a Belgian
The soldiers explain dogs will be of great help when storming buildings, arresting suspects or looking for explosives. The commandos recall the story of SWO Miron Łucki – special forces were ambushed by rebels in Afghanistan, and Miron was killed by a mine. “If they had had a dog with them, it’s likely none of this would have happened. F1 would have sensed the danger,” admits Lopez.
Combat dogs can also be used for reconnaissance. A camera is mounted on the dog’s tactical vest, it is sent into a building, and in this way soldiers can see the inside before they enter it. However, in order for the dog to be useful during a mission, it has to undergo proper training. Handlers work with their dogs every day. During trainings, organized two or three times a day, dogs practice running, attacking, biting, tracking, they also search for hidden objects. What do they enjoy the most? Lopez answers without hesitation: “Biting.” He has already been on six missions. He spent the last one, in Afghanistan, with his dog. He says that Dutch and Belgian Shepherds make the best combat dogs. “They have strong character, they are good to work with, easy to train. However, the animal cannot be given too much freedom. It mustn’t dominate the handler. If the training is conducted correctly, a Belgian will become an invaluable helper,” says Lopez.
A combat dog should have an appropriate character and strong motivation to work. “Belgian Shepherds want to work, and they feel bad when they don’t. Work itself is an award to them,” says Lopez. The animal has to be healthy, in perfect condition. It should be quite light, weighing around 30 kg (during an operation, such weight allows for carrying the dog, throwing it over a fence, or pulling it into a helicopter).
Before canine troops enter service, they have to go through a selection process. Only the ones which come from good breeders, and have already completed an obedience training, have a chance. They also have to pass tests on biting and searching for a hidden object. They cannot be afraid of heights, slippery surfaces, shots, explosions, or helicopter noise. “We teach them how to be a soldier. We train descending with thick and thin rope, we fly helicopters, aircraft. The dog works with operators, goes to the training ground with soldiers. It also learns to distinguish scents of different explosives,” explains a handler.
Soldiers make sure that the dogs feel good among people. “They can’t be a threat to strangers, because we carry out many tasks in cities. We can’t go there with an aggressive animal. We need a dog that reacts to actual danger and executes only the orders and tasks given by the handler,” explains the task force commander.
The K9 program at the Commando Military Unit will be developed. There are plans to purchase more combat dogs and train new handlers.
autor zdjęć: arch. JWK