- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Earlier this week, FP‘s own Elias Groll wrote an in-depth profile about intrepid reporter Robert Young Pelton and his plan to track down the notorious African warlord Joseph Kony. Apparently, though, it’s not just Pelton who’s going all-in on going after Kony. In his Washington Post article, “Kony 2013: U.S. quietly intensifies effort to help African troops capture infamous warlord,” Rajiv Chandrasekaran reports that U.S. forces are sending in tracker dogs:
African troops and their U.S. advisers are also being aided by two American philanthropists, who are paying $120,000 a month for six Belgian Malinois tracking dogs and their handlers. The dogs have accompanied soldiers on patrols and raids. In September, they were helicoptered into the rebel camp near Garamba to assist in the search for fleeing Kony loyalists.
The dog teams are funded by Howard G. Buffett, the eldest son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, and Shannon Sedgwick Davis, an activist from Texas who heads the Bridgeway Foundation, the charitable arm of Bridgeway Capital Management, a large investment firm that devotes half of its after-tax profit to human rights causes.
The United States used tracker dogs with tremendous success during the Vietnam War. Navigating the tangled brush of the jungle was no easy task; not only did the dogs help keep their handlers and the men who followed behind them on a safe path, but patrols that were accompanied by dog teams were almost always able to avoid being ambushed. And though it’s a less-utilized skill deployed by the military’s dog program nowadays, tracker dog teams still offer the same advantages, especially in a manhunt scenario. I’ve followed behind a tracker dog team and watched SF dog teams train. Their skills are unparalleled.
So, the question in this instance really is not “Why would Special Forces employ dog teams on the Kony manhunt mission?” but, “Why wouldn’t they?”
In a brief exchange over Facebook, I asked Pelton what he thought about sending these elite dogs in on the hunt for Kony.
“Obviously I have seen these dogs in action,” he wrote. “But I have also seen that part of Africa … These well trained dogs are typically used in close encounters (flushing a suspect out of a hiding place, rather than across hundreds of miles of swamps, grasslands and forests.) They are good, but nothing replaces HUMINT and man trackers.” He added: “The Special Forces are the best of the best… but they are also restricted by a number of rules, resources and just the vast scope of the region. I wish them luck!”
And so do we.
Rebecca Frankel is special projects editor at Foreign Policy.