Technology has given the world’s militaries 62-ton tanks and silent motorcycles, but some modern armies still send troops into battle on the backs of camels and horses.
Here are 7 militaries that still view four-legged creatures as part of the first line of defense:
1. India’s 61st Cavalry and Border Security Force
India was ranked 4th on our list of top militaries in the world. Surprisingly for such a powerful force, it has two units that ride animals into battle, mostly in desert areas where heavy vehicles would be bogged down.
India’s 61st Cavalry Regiment is thought to be the last fully-operational, horse-mounted army regiment in the world. It is deployed primarily in an internal security role. When the 61st does ride out to the borders, it’s usually to support the Indian Border Security Force. The BSF is also mounted, primarily on camels.
2. Chilean Army Horse Units
Chile lists four horse units on its published list of Army units from 2014, though it’s not clear which of them still actually ride into combat. But, the army does still send scouts into the rough Andes mountains on horseback. Many of the mountain passes are nearly impassable for vehicles and the horses can travel on small paths through the rocks.
Interestingly, Chile’s annual military parade began including horse artillery again in 2000, after 30 years of not parading it. (Bouncing back from budget cuts, perhaps?)
Germany maintains one pack animal company in support of its Reconnaissance Battalion 230. Though the company primarily focuses on using mules and horses as pack animals, its soldiers can also ride when they need to cover ground quickly in the mountains.
4. The United Nations
The United Nations puts together peacekeeping forces to patrol some of the most austere environments in the world and sometimes has to form forces of mounted cavalry.
In the above photo, Dutch soldiers assigned as peacekeepers ride camels while enforcing a 2002 ceasefire between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The large deserts of Iraq and Syria could make mounted troops necessary if the UN decides to send personnel to the conflicts there.
5. The U.S. Marine Corps and special forces
Following the use by special forces soldiers of horses during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the U.S. has shown interest in expanding its mounted training. The only current mounted training area for U.S. forces is the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in California.
The school recently hosted training for special forces operators where the soldiers learned how to tell the age and temperament of horses and other pack animals. They also got time in the saddle and experience packing the animals with crew-served weapons and other equipment.
China uses mounted soldiers to police areas of the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, according to blogs that follow Chinese military developments. About 140 horses are tended to in Mongolia’s historic grasslands. The full unit is only present with the horses for the spring and summer though. Once the cold weather settles in, the staff that supports the herd drops to six people.
The Jordanian Public Security Force has a Desert Camel Corps that patrols the country’s desert borders. The actual camel riders are limited to one 40-man platoon. The riders spend most of their time assisting travelers and stopping smugglers. The desert riders could be called on to watch for incursions by ISIS, since Jordan shares borders with both Iraq and Syria.