- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
There has been a lot of response to the Taliban’s recently released video footage in which it touts the capture of what it originally claimed was a U.S. military dog called Colonel. Thursday morning’s initial reports lacked much in-depth reporting and it turns out the dog is thought to have been attached to British forces and originally went missing in December after a NATO mission gone wrong. The majority of headlines and discussion were focused not on the validity of the reports or the video, but just the news that a war dog was captured.
Later commentary yesterday, like this Washington Post blog post, attempted to broaden the discussion by asking the question: "Why do we care about this dog?" I take issue with this on a few levels, but on its face this is not a totally worthless question to ponder. However, in this instance it’s the wrong question. It begs an answer that needs no validation. You don’t have to be a dog lover to understand that. You don’t even have to weigh the ethics of waging war or the cost of life — whether soldier, civilian, or canine — to understand that. Yes, it pulls heartstrings to see this dog, confused and uncomfortable. But the gut twist of this footage doesn’t begin and end with the emotion of seeing a dog in the hands of men who may very well end his life. It’s not just a hit to our collective morale.
The question we should be asking — and forgive me, for I am repeating myself — is this: Why does the Taliban care about this dog?
Why does the Taliban think that releasing a video of this dog is going to make a difference to the U.S. military? For anyone who might scoff or pass this off as a clumsy move on behalf of a few Taliban fighters who, by showing off a handful of weapons and a dog, believed they scored a victory against their enemy, seriously underestimates how seriously NATO forces need and rely on these dogs. They also underestimate how good these dogs are at their job, how many lives they save, and how much the men and women on the ground value them — consider them a fellow soldier more than a tool or piece of equipment.
I hate to say it, but the Taliban got it right when they banked they’d gotten their hands on something of unquantifiable value. And that’s a bit of news worth noting.