Diggers' dog comes back from the dead

By Greg Anlsey

CANBERRA - It's almost too doggone good to be true.

In the wilds of war-torn Afghanistan, an American soldier came across a local man accompanied by a smart-looking black dog.

Some time back the soldier, identified only as "John", had heard that the Australian Special Forces operating in Oruzgan province had lost one of their specially-trained explosives sniffer dogs.

"I took the dog and gave it some commands it understood," he said.

John then took the dog, shook the Afghan man's hand, and called the Aussies.

They were ecstatic.

Almost 14 months ago their black Labrador, Sabi, rescued from the pound and taken to Afghanistan as a life-saver, had gone missing in a ferocious firefight that wounded nine Australians and earned SAS Trooper Mark Donaldson the Victoria Cross.

The heavily-outnumbered force of diggers, American forces and the Afghan National Army had been ambushed by a well-prepared and sited enemy as their convoy wound through the remote northeast of the province.

In the heat of battle Sabi vanished.

The Special Operations Task group repeatedly tried to discover her fate.

In the end Sabi was declared missing in action, presumed dead.

It was a hard blow.

Sabi, who had previously sniffed for explosives during the 2006 Melbourne Games, was nearing the end of her second tour of duty in Afghanistan.

She had spent more time there than many soldiers, and had saved diggers' lives by hunting out the improvised explosive devices that have claimed most of the lives lost among the international force fighting the Taleban insurgents.

Somehow, she had survived more than a year in the desolate, war-torn region.

Last week Sabi was flown to the Australian base at Tarin Kowt and reunited with one of her Special Forces trainers.

It only took a look and a quick game of ball to confirm her identity.

"I nudged a tennis ball to her with my foot and she took it straight away," the trainer said through the Defence Force.

"It's a game we used to play over and over during her training.

"It's amazing, just incredible, to have her back."

In London, after meeting the Queen, Donaldson welcomed Sabi's 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."

Sabi is now undergoing veterinary checks ahead of quarantine for her return to Australia.

Her recovery came as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a visit to Tarin Kowt, at which he mourned the deaths of 11 Australians in Afghanistan and pledged continued support for the war.

"We from Australia will remain for the long haul," he said.

Only hours earlier another Australian soldier was injured by a roadside bomb of the kind hunted out by Sabi.

He was reported yesterday to be in a stable condition.

- NZ Herald

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