By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Last week, France lost one of the fiercest among their canine fighting force, the 132e Bataillon Cynophile de L'Armee de Terre. On April 17 Fitas, an eight-year-old Belgian Malinois, succumbed to injuries he sustained while serving in Afghanistan.
According to the Armée de Terre's Facebook page in April of last year, while on patrol in Afghanistan, Fitas uncovered an ambush awaiting French troops. Apparently, the dog not only alerted to the danger, but was key in warding off the insurgents during the attack that followed. Unfortunately, during the upheaval, Fitas was captured and held captive for months.
My French is a little rusty but from what I could tell, there are at least two accounts of what happened after that fateful night. As one story goes, Fitas was found (some versions say rescued) by the Afghan National Army and returned to his unit stationed at Camp Warehouse near Kabul. According to Facebook, the brave dog escaped on his own mettle though it doesn't detail how he made his way back to his fellow troops last August.
Sadly, what finally took down this warrior dog was an injury he suffered either during the initial attack or while poorly treated during his captivity. Reports say Fitas contracted some kind of disease or infection from the wound, something that was apparently too pernicious or too far advanced to treat.
For his bravery, Fitas received commendation from General Ract Madoux, who awarded the dog with the Gold Medal of National Defense with the Silver Star.
In the above photo, Fitas poses with a French soldier in Kabul on Sept. 10, 2011. Note his front-left paw, the site of his injury, easily distinguished by the reddish coloring.
Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently writing a book about military working dogs, to be published by Free Press.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.