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Top dog: Trump to hold audience with canine who chased down IS leader Baghdadi

Conan [R] was described as an 'American hero' by President Trump [L] [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 November, 2019

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A US army canine will be honoured with a trip to the White House after playing a key role in the operation that led to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's death.
They say every dog has its day - and so it will be for the US army pooch that chased down Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during a recent operation in Syria.

Conan, a veteran of numerous combat missions, has been invited to the White House in recognition of his heroic role in the operation that led to the death of IS's self-proclaimed caliph.

The Belgian Malinois's identity was a closely-guarded secret until it was declassified by US President Donald Trump, who retweeted a picture of the tongue-wagging pooch after the raid at Baghdadi's lair in northern Syria.

The president even confirmed Conan's name in a tweet in the small hours of Thursday, as he revealed the canine would be leaving the Middle East for Washington, "sometime next week."

Conan chased Baghdadi into a dead-end tunnel in his Syrian hideout, where the cornered IS leader detonated a suicide vest, killing himself and two children, according to the US account.

Conan was injured by the electric cables exposed in the detonation but is expected to make a full recovery. 

While human soldiers wounded in battle for the US can be eligible for a Purple Heart, there is not thought to be an equivalent for the army's canine helpers.

Details about Conan's life, achievements and family background are scant, although it is known that US Navy SEALs also used a dog of the same breed in the 2011 raid in Pakistan that killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The head of US Central Command, General Kenneth McKenzie, said Conan was a "critical member of our forces" and mentioned his impressive record of 50 combat missions in four years of service.

Breaking protocol

The president - celebrated and rebuked for repeatedly breaking with Washington norms - has ended a tradition going back more than a century by not having a dog in the White House. 

And while 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue differs from an estimated 63 million US households in that respect, Trump  has not to passed up a chance to bask in Conan's reflected glory.

When he announced the death of the world's most wanted militant leader on Sunday, Trump praised "our canine - I call it a dog, a beautiful dog, a talented dog."

Another norm that hasn't overly troubled the commander-in-chief is the practice among special forces of keeping their working animals out of the limelight.  

National security experts have taken to Twitter in recent days with serious complaints that declassifying Conan's identity could have breached national security.

Read more: Islamic State names new leader after death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

"For those joking about the classified dog name, there's actually a security reason for it: Knowing dog's name, u can determine the handler," tweeted retired army general Mark Hertling, a former commander of US land forces in Europe.

"Knowing the handler, u can determine the unit; Knowing the unit, tells which Delta unit(s) was part of the raid."

At the first press briefing after the operation, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, hailed the animal's "tremendous service" but also said its identity must be protected.

On social media Trump's supporters, and others, raved about the dog's bravery.

The president tweeted a manipulated image depicting him bestowing Conan with an imaginary Medal of Honor - the highest US military distinction - accompanied with the caption: "AMERICAN HERO."

Agencies contributed to this report.

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