13 November 2009


A welcome bath moments after Sabi's return to the Australian Special Forces compound near Tarin Kowt. Photo: ADF.

Sabi the army dog returns home after 14 months lost in Afghanistan

Special Forces units make a point of never leaving one of their own behind — and Australia’s Sabi is no exception.

The bomb-sniffing black labrador has been found after being declared missing in action, presumed dead, following a gun battle in Afghanistan 14 months ago.

Four-year-old Sabi was rescued by American soldiers in the remote mountains of Uruzgan province, deep inside Taleban territory in the south.

After more than a year of eluding the Taleban and living off her wits, Sabi received a celebrity welcome from General Stanley McChrystal, head of Nato troops, and Kevin Rudd, the Australian Prime Minister, who saw the dog during an overnight trip to visit his country’s servicemen.

Moments after touchdown in Tarin Kowt and being reunited with one of her original trainers, Sabi catches a tennis ball nudged towards her. Photo: ADF.

Her trainer verified her identity by testing her with a familiar game. “I nudged a tennis ball to her with my foot and she took it straight away. It’s a game we used to play over and over during her training,” the handler said. “It’s amazing, just incredible, to have her back.”

Nine Australian soldiers — including Sabi’s handler — were wounded in the battle, which earned one of the Australian SAS troopers the highest bravery award.

Mark Donaldson won a Victoria Cross for deliberately and repeatedly drawing enemy fire so that his wounded comrades could be evacuated — and then running across 80 yards of open ground to rescue a wounded Afghan interpreter.

Once the dust cleared, there was no sign of Sabi, a dog trained to detect explosives. The troops later searched repeatedly around the ambush site, but assumed that the dog was dead.

Last week an American soldier — named only as John — spotted the dog close to an isolated outpost in the northwest of the province. Officials said he knew the Australians had lost a dog, and it matched her description so he called her towards him. “I took the dog and gave it some commands, and it understood,” he said.

Sabi was airlifted to the Australian headquarters in the provincial capital, Tarin Kowt. She was then reunited with the Army’s working dogs unit.

Trooper Donaldson welcomed the news of the dog’s safe return. “She’s the last piece of the puzzle,” he said. “Having Sabi back gives some closure for the handler and the rest of us that served with her in 2008. It’s a fantastic morale booster for the guys.”

George Hulse, from the Australian Defence Force Trackers and War Dogs Association, said: “She’s been a fantastic dog and given us great service, and that she’s a survivor shows that she’s got the true Australian spirit.”

What a great story!

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