The ominous encounter news on television was unusual. The armed forces had lost an Army dog while fighting terrorists earlier that day in the Kashmir valley. The bulletin left me guessing. What could be the specialty of the dog that had laid down his life.
The details emerged the following day. My hunch was not off the mark. He was a combat assault dog. These specialised dogs were tried initially with the Special Forces of the Indian Army in 2015. We had sent for trial some of such trained German Shepherds from the RVC Centre and College (RVC C&C), Meerut, which I then commanded. During the rigorous trials for months in Jammu and Kashmir, the Special Forces found them of immense help in their missions. Later on, the Malinois breed was inducted for the purpose. It’s a type of Belgian Shepherd, which has an ideal combination of agility, stamina and fearlessness. Training further hones their traits such that they, uncaring for themselves, literally bounce off the walls.
The combat assault dogs can take on terrorists hidden in buildings or while dealing with hostage situations. They straightaway storm on seeing a terrorist with a weapon in compromised places. These dogs don’t even need handler-soldiers for spot ordering them. Mounted with remote-controlled, wireless cameras, such dogs can also be launched for seeing the weapons and fugitives inside the buildings.
The canine warrior in the news was a two-year-old, light-brown Malinois named Axel. He had joined his unit in December 2021 in the Valley, after rigorous training at the RVC C&C. Soon, he made a mark for himself in combat assault duties in the challenging environment.
On July 30, 2022, Axel, along with his handler-soldier, was deployed with a combined combat team of the Army and police, tasked with tackling the terrorists reportedly holed up in a building in Pattan area of Baramulla.
Axel was launched on-site with a walkie-talkie and camera mounted on his harness. Axel, after clearing out the first room, entered the next room. As soon as he saw a terrorist with an AK-47 rifle, Axel pounced upon him. The terrorist fired a burst at Axel, killing him from a point-blank range. But before dying, Axel had already relayed the exact location and weapon detail of the terrorist. The soldiers killed the terrorist in the gunfight. Axel’s body could be recovered only when the firing stopped.
By sacrificing his life, Axel saved the lives of several soldiers in his team. Hundreds of canine warriors from Axel’s parental RVC kennels are engaged daily in rescue and security-related duties in different corners of the country. Not only are they guarding installations, but also uncovering hidden bombs and explosives, ensuring safe passages for soldiers and vehicles. Every dog team covers 5-10 km, routinely risking their lives in high-risk scenarios and clearing out roads for safe movement.
Every year, the grateful nation honours dozens of these silent warriors and their handler-soldiers. Axel, too, was honoured on Independence Day with a gallantry award meant for soldiers. Unlike many nations across the world, we have no separate bravery medal for our four-legged warriors. Why can’t there be such a medal for these bravehearts?
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