Minutes before the Indian Army succeeded in neutralising a lone militant in Jammu and Kashmir’s Baramulla on Saturday, it suffered a loss of its own: a two-year-old assault dog by the name of Axel, who was hit around the head by three bullets and killed instantly after being sent to sniff out the militant’s location.
Officials privy to the operation in Baramulla’s Wanigam said the militant was eventually killed. “Axel was dead before it could have been rushed to a vet,” an official told News18.
According to police, a lone militant, identified as Akhtar Hussain Bhat, was killed while two soldiers and a policeman were wounded in the encounter. Axel, the light brown Belgian Malinois, was a casualty in the encounter that lasted for five hours.
Baramulla senior superintendent of police Mohammad Rayees Bhat said the militant fired at security forces when they cordoned off Wanigam village. He said an AK rifle, three magazines and a pouch were recovered from the site after the encounter.
According to officials, a well-trained assault dog can tear into a militant’s hiding location and cause fatal injury. They said the encounter would have been over much earlier had the dog got even closer to the militant. Axel had been part of a few successful operations before and was an efficient assault dog.
These animals are sometimes laced with cameras and sent inside houses or buildings to tell accurate position of militants and other details such as weapons and ammunition they carry. After getting pinpoint location of the militants, the crack team of police or army plan their assault and ensure they take no casualties.
“Drones give us an overview of a building or a house where militants are trapped but they don’t give us specifics inside a house or an annexe,” an official said, adding, “the dogs come in handy and help us in operations where room intervention is required.”
Axel’s trainer has been left shattered. An official said the dog master was moved by the canine’s death and kept stroking it long after it was gone. “He took three bullets,” the dog master said, sitting near his pet.
Axel was recently inducted into the dog unit facility at Baramulla and trained hard with the dog master. Officials said he had done well in some operations in the northern districts. “We had recently taken him to an encounter site in Tulibal area of Sopore. Two militants were killed there and he did his bit,” an official said, adding, “the entire unit is sad.”
For successful operations, police and army rely on human as well as technical intelligence but canines have done a great deal in anti-militancy operations. Be it detecting explosives on roads taken by security convoys, canines are a critical part of every road opening party (ROP). An ROP sets out early in the morning to sniff out explosives, and dog interventions have saved many lives in the past.