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In The Red

Dogs of war

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ALL EARS: Patrol dogs can sense the presence of bombs and humans from more than a kilometre away.

The cash-strapped Indian security forces do not have enough trained dogs to sniff out explosives and extremists. If they did, tragedies like the Dantewada massacre could be avoided.

K9 has the best nose in the American armed forces. K9 - the name used for the dog squad in the US - will put his nose up in the air and lead his handler to explosives stashed away, save lives. Animal experts feel the Dantewada massacre on April 6, in which Maoists killed 76 CRPF personnel, could have been avoided if the patrol team had dogs with them.

According to an IG at the CRPF headquarters in Delhi, patrol dogs can be an effective force multiplier during operations against insurrectionists. Dogs give a combat unit more teeth. That increases the chances of success of an operation and minimises casualties, he said.

In India, patrol dogs are seldom used. But, police forces in European countries use them regularly. According to a senior officer in the CRPF, "India doesn't have the resources to recruit the large number of trained dogs required for effective patrol duties. We are struggling to fill up the many vacancies for humans."

The CRPF, the prime force in the anti-Maoist operations, are also deployed in insurgencyravaged J&K and the Northeast. In its 14 sectors spread across the country, the CRPF has only 150 dogs. They are mostly used as sniffers to detect explosives and in anti-sabotage checks.

The CRPF still doesn't have a centre to train dogs. "Its dogs are trained at the Indo-Tibetan Border Police's (ITBP) National Training Centre for Dogs and Animals (NTCDA) at Bhanu, near Chandigarh, " said Deepak Pandey, ITBP spokesperson. Currently, five Labradors of the CRPF are undergoing explosive detection training at NTCDA.

The ITBP trains dogs for its own force and for a host of other security forces including the UP Police, Haryana Police, Chandigarh Police, CISF, CRPF, SSB and the elite SPG at NTCDA, according to the ITBP DIG R S Pundir, in charge of the NTCDA. In fact, it has also trained a batch of six dogs for the Indian Air Force to detect explosives and for guard duties at the IAF bases.

Currently, 55 dogs are undergoing training at the NTCDA to be deployed at the upcoming Commonwealth Games in Delhi. Code named Operation Kavach, these dogs will be used for sniffing out explosives, protection and sanitisation of the Games village, hotels, stadiums and parking lots. They would also be deployed for anti-sabotage duties and vehicle checks. They began training in July 2009 and are likely to be deployed by August-September 2010, ahead of the Games.

Dogs of the ITBP have proven their efficiency. After the blast at the Indian embassy in Kabul in 2008, a team of Labradors and German Shepherds trained in explosive detection has been deployed at the embassy, preempting blasts.

Dog squads have been an integral part of the police and security forces of the country for a long time. Increasing demands of internal security and a steep rise in counter-insurgency operations (CI ops) have meant rising human casualties for the security forces. But, the government has no plan to induct dogs in CI ops. Or, simply put, deploy war dogs.

Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans - all deployed fierce dogs in war. Hammurabi, the king of Babylon, assigned war dogs to his soldiers as far back as 2100 BC. Dogs played a significant role in the expansion of the Roman empire.

In contemporary history, the animal detectors came into their own with the US Armed Forces training war dogs during World War II. By 1945, they had trained around 10, 000 dogs for their Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

According to reports, the US troop surge in Afghanistan has led to an explosion in the number of war dogs there. Nick Guidas, the American K-9 project manager for Afghanistan, told AP that along with about 37, 000 US and NATO troops, the number of military working dogs being brought into Afghanistan to search for mines, explosives and to accompany soldiers on patrol has
increased substantially. "It may go as high as 315 dogs in Afghanistan, " Guidas said.

Highly trained German and Dutch Shepherds, Belgian Malinois and Labradors crowd the kennels at the Kandahar airfield, the epicentre of US-led operations in the area.

What makes the dog so effective in patrol as well as in anti-sabotage checks and explosive detections is their strong sense of smell.

According to Dr Sudhakar Natarajan, the ITBP deputy commandant and chief dog trainer at the NTCDA, "A dog has a 150 sq cm nasal mucous membrane while that in humans is only 3 sq cm. A dog has 224 million receptor cells in its nose that bestows it with a strong sense of smell. A human, on the other hand, has 2-4 million receptor cells. The difference is obvious. According to a study, the effective range of a sentry dog's detection by scent is 50 to 500 yards, depending on various conditions including the weather. So, a dog can give advance warning, about an ambush, like the one put up by the Maoists in the Dantewada incident.

For instance, if the enemy has laid an ambush about one km ahead, a trained patrol or vanguard dog can sense the presence of humans and explosives. Said a police dog trainer, "As soon as a patrol dog senses such presence, it cocks its ears. Its tail gets agitated and it sits down and refuses to budge. Even if the handler orders, it won't move. " That is a clear enough indication based on which the patrol units can act on neutralising the enemy. It might even give time to seek reinforcement. That increases operational efficiency of the troops.

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