By Rebecca Frankel
Chief Canine Correspondent
On a late September afternoon in 2008, a convoy of allied forces -- U.S., Australian, and members of the Afghan National Army -- patrolling the remote valley in the Oruzgan, Afghanistan was ambushed by the Taliban. It was a carefully planned attack by "a numerically superior, well-sited and prepared insurgent force." When the battle was over many were wounded and one member of the Australian unit was missing -- Sabi, the Special Forces explosives detection dog.
From what I can gather from reports of that fateful day it seems that Sabi, a charming four year-old black Labrador retriever, broke away from her handler, one of the soldiers wounded during the attack, jumping from their vehicle as it evacuated the area.
She was declared Missing in Action later that month. The special operations task group made repeated attempts to track her down -- if not to find Sabi, to learn of her fate -- but there was nothing. That is until nearly 14 months later when a U.S. soldier noticed a dog in Oruzgan that was clearly not an "ordinary canine." The soldier, who is only ever referred to as "John," aware that Australian forces had lost Sabi, investigated by giving the dog some commands. The dog responded and just like that Sabi was on her way back home to base in Tarin Kowt.
Her handler, David, recognized her immediately.
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 trainer said. 'It's amazing, just incredible, to have her back.'"
No one knows for sure what Sabi was doing for over a year wandering the Afghan wilderness. To be sure she returned a little ragged, but her initial veterinary check-ups showed that she was in good health -- someone had likely been looking after her.
George Hulse, of the ADF tracking and war dogs told the BBC: "That she's a survivor shows that she's got the true Australian spirit. She's never gonna say 'die,' she's gonna take it right down to the wire, and she's done that."
And now there's news of Sabi once again: This war dog is slowly but surely making her way back to Australia. Earlier this month Sabi arrived in Dubai where she will spend six months at an Australian Quarantine Inspection Service, until she's cleared to leave.
It's been a long journey and she has a fair way to go yet,' Sabi's handler said. 'I'll be glad once it's all over and she's back in Australia.'"
Above: Sabi gets her first bath after returning to Australian Special Forces compound in 2009. For more photos of this beguiling war dog, the Australian Department of Defense has two image galleries devoted to her. Sabi also has her own facebook page.
(HT: Many thanks to Daniel Ryan who sent this story to Best Defense.)
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.