In February, 2014, Taliban insurgents released a video with what they claimed was a U.S. prisoner of war that they had captured the previous year. They called him “colonel” as they led him around by a leash and described taking him during a night raid in Afghanistan’s Laghman Province. He was a Belgian Malinois working dog – and he was about to put his captors to work.
“Colonel” was actually a dog working for the British forces under ISAF command in the country, according to BBC reporters. The dog was apparently captured in the middle of an intense firefight with coalition forces trying to drive the Taliban out of the Alingar Valley. They were tipped off about a British SAS raid on Dec. 23.
It was the first time a working dog was taken prisoner in Afghanistan.
Colonel, or dagarwal in Pashto, was a valuable asset, no matter how the Taliban chose to see him. Not only was the dog not killed, injured, or otherwise mistreated, he was an asset. They would never get a trained working dog like Colonel. They sure couldn’t train one. Even as a prisoner of war to be ransomed, he was priceless.
“It’s always possible that we could use the dog, since it has been trained,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement. “If someone offers a trade for it then we can think about that.”
A casual viewer might never know it, as videos with the Malinois show him surrounded by as many as five Taliban fighters, all heavily armed with rifles and grenades, but the dog is much more than a mutt found on the street. Colonel had needs, and he liked things a certain way. Whereas other dogs were kicked out into the streets and fed scraps, Colonel had a team of Taliban waiting on him.
“It is not like the local dogs which will eat anything and sleep anywhere,” Mujahid added. “We have to prepare him proper food and make sure he has somewhere to sleep properly.”
This means Colonel has a few Taliban fighters who were attached to him. They provided him with blankets and made human-level food for him from chicken and kebab meat. Dogs are not considered pets in Afghan culture, are widely seen as “unclean,” and the Coalition’s use of dogs has irked the Afghan President and people at times.
The Taliban also showed off weapons seized during a raid on one of their hideouts.
Sadly, it’s hard to know if Colonel was ever rescued. British special operations forces from the Who Dares Wins Regiment volunteered to go find the dog and rescue him, but the British Defence Ministry called the mission “unlikely.”
Colonel has since been nominated for the Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross.