With President Barrack Obama’s call to increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan by 30,000, the need for systems to support those numbers will also increase. The estimated cost for the first year alone is approximately $30 billion.
At least a fraction of that cost seems likely to fund the need for military-trained dogs that accompany soldiers on their patrols. By all accounts, dogs trained to sniff out explosives and mines have saved countless lives in the Afghan desert, but these dogs cost a significant amount of money to train and maintain. The San Francisco Examiner reports that amount to be about $40,000 per year, per dog.
Dogs serving in the war may eventually go as high as 315 dogs in Afghanistan, estimated Nick Guidas, an American civilian contractor who serves as K-9 project manager for Afghanistan.
Currently, Guidas has 50 active-duty dogs and about 20 more awaiting their missions, making the possible jump to 300 or more a high one.
“Because of the surge [of human troops] there is more need for working dogs,” Guidas said. “But one of my main problems is getting dog food. It’s hard to convince people sometimes that it’s a priority, but it’s a necessity if we are to keep these dogs working.”
The dogs, which are primarily German Shepherd Dogs, Labrador Retrievers, Dutch Shepherds and Belgian Malinois, require a special high-protein and nutrients-rich diet because of the high energy required to participate in their missions.
Guidas expects his dog food costs to rise in the coming year to $200,000, which is up about $80,000 from last year.
The dog food, which is produced in the United States, is shipped to Pakistan and then trucked to Kandahar. From there, space on the shipping trucks is limited and therefore prioritized according to need. Food for humans goes first, and then everything else follows.
The dog food, Guidas said, “doesn’t get a higher priority than a Coke or some potato chips. It moves when it moves.”
It’s not the first time dogs in Afghanistan have not gotten what they needed, although certainly food tops any priority list. In December, a group of Kentucky middle-school children arranged a drive through their local 4-H Horse Club to get military dogs — and even some products for human soldiers — items that the U.S. government does not provide, including cooling vests, grooming tools, salves for noses and pads, collapsible bowls, and eye drops.
Furthermore, working dogs in Afghanistan are not without facing their own dangers. Guidas said he has lost only two dogs in five years. While that is statistically low, especially when compared to human casualties, it is still two canine lives taken in the line of duty.
This past November, an Australian military dog named Sabi made international headlines after having been missing in the Afghan desert for 14 months. She had disappeared after insurgents attacked the convoy with which she was traveling. While it was initially reported that a local man had been caring for her until an American soldier discovered her whereabouts, it has since been revealed that the Taliban was holding her.
In the meantime, these dogs continue to accompany their human counterparts on missions. Thanks to their ability to sniff out bombs, mines and even chemicals used by the Taliban to make explosives, military dogs have become vital parts of the units in which they serve.
“They are 98 percent accurate,” said dog handler Corporal Andrew Guzman. “We trust these dogs more than metal detectors and mine sweepers.”
But detecting explosives aren’t the only functions these dogs serve in the war zones. They have come to provide a morale boost and an emotional support for combat-weary soldiers. Troops frequently play with their canine counterparts and enquire about adopting them after their tours end, reports Discovery.com.
Lance Corporal George Grimm, who handles a Labrador named Brooks, said the Marines he works with feel safer with the canine bomb team. “Our life is in this boy’s hands pretty much,” he said of Brooks. “They don’t ask for much except to be taken care of.”
Which leads back to the dog food shortage issue. Because it is American made, their diet is not locally available in Afghanistan. How the U.S. plans to keep supplying the dogs already in service, in addition to the ones awaiting deployment and in training, remains to be seen.
The United States currently has the largest canine force in the world, with more than 2,800 dogs total serving in its ranks. Dogs became a regular U.S. military feature during World War I, but the use of dogs in war actually dates back thousands of years to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Britons and Romans.
Today, those who work with them directly recognize their special talents and take pains to treat them well.
“We take very good care of these dogs,” Guidas said. “In some cases they are treated better than us.”
Have you ever worked with a service or military dog? If so, let us know about it!