Friday, 11 November 2011

ITBP trains dogs to bomb terror hideouts

The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) has come up with the bizarre idea of training dogs to drop bombs in terror hideouts and retrieve guns. But the plan has drawn the ire of animal rights activists, who say the animals are being put to grave risk.

The ITBP claims to have trained six labradors to drop remote-controlled IEDs in terror hideouts during operations and retrieve the dead terrorists' weapons later. The dogs can grab the bomb or an AK-47 in their teeth.

"The task of the dog is to quietly place the IED near the terror hideout when security forces cannot move closer because of heavy bullet fire from terrorists or if the visibility is low. The dog will also be used for mopping-up operations," an ITBP spokesperson said, adding that the animals would act as force multipliers and ensure the lives of the troops are not endangered.

But while the ITBP is patting itself on the back for "another feather in its cap", the chairman of the Animal Welfare Board, Major General (retd) Dr R.M. Kharb, called the idea "weird" and said it made no sense to him.

"This seems a weird idea… I have never heard of dogs being trained to drop bombs. We will need a clarification from the ITBP. We would like to know how they have been trained - for instance, have they assessed how long the dog will take to plant the bomb and for how long can the timer be set to ensure the animal's safety," Kharb said.

The Animal Welfare Board is a statutory body which works under the ministry of environment. Kharb's concern is significant as he retired from the army as the director general of Remount & Veterinary Corps and commanded two army dog units.

MP Maneka Gandhi, the head of People for Animals, also termed the ITBP's move as ridiculous. "Dogs have never been trained for such tasks anywhere in the world… why are you putting the animal's life in danger? Also, if the terrorists will die from the blast, why send dogs to retrieve their weapons? Why can't ITBP personnel themselves go?" she asked.

Uma Menon from Frendicos echoed the sentiment. She said the exercise was absolutely unsafe and feared the dogs would not come back alive in 90 per cent of the cases.

"This exposes the mentality that dogs are expendable. Suppose you release the dog in enemy territory with a bomb assuming that he will plant the device in certain minutes. But what if the animal is waylaid?" she asked.

"These dogs must have been trained with dummies and certainly not in a battlefield where the loud sounds of gunfire are most likely to put the animal off-track, as dogs are highly sensitive to noise," Menon said.

Poorva Joshipura, chief functionary of PETA India, also said the animals were at grave risk of being shot or blown up by bombs.

But the ITBP spokesperson insisted the safety of the animals would be ensured and that the IED would be detonated only after the dog had returned to the handler.

This is the first time dogs have been trained to participate in this way in counter-terror operations. No other force, including the Indian Army, has such dogs.

The ITBP uses dogs extensively in disaster management and has trained lots of them for the state police forces, basically for sniffing explosives and narcotics.

A dog trained by the ITBP was recently used by the Haryana Police to detect explosives in a car at the Ambala railway station.

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