A sniffer dog that went missing in action after a battle in Afghanistan has been found safe and well after more than a year in the desert.
Sabi the black Labrador was with a joint Australian-Afghan army patrol when it was ambushed by Taliban militants in September 2008.
Nine soldiers were wounded in the ensuing gun battle, which earned one Australian SAS trooper the country’s highest bravery award.
But there was no sign of the bomb-sniffing dog after the battle in a remote area of Uruzgan province.
Sabi’s handlers spent months scouring the desert looking for the four-year-old animal, but to no avail.
Having a ball: Sarbi at Forward Operating Base Ripley in Tarin Kowt, Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan, after her amazing return
Special Forces Explosive Detection Dog Sarbi with her favourite ball
Happy to be home: Sabi was probably looked after by an Afghan
Last week – 14 months after she disappeared – a U.S. serviceman spotted a dog with an Afghan man at an isolated patrol base in another part of Uruzgan.
The Afghan handed Sabi over and the American quickly realised she must be a military-trained animal.
Within days, the Labrador was returned to her unit – no worse for wear.
Mark Donaldson, the SAS trooper awarded the Victoria Cross for rescuing a wounded interpreter during the battle, said: ‘Sabi’s the last piece of the puzzle.
‘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.’
The dog’s unnamed handler told of the moment he was reunited with Sabi. He said: ‘I nudged a tennis ball to her with my foot and she took it straight away.
‘It’s a game we used to play over and over during her training. It’s amazing, just incredible, to have her back.’
Hero’s welcome: Sabi is greeted by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and US commander General Stanley McChrystal
The dog was returned to the Australians’ base just in time for a visit by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who was photographed along with the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, petting Sabi.
‘Sabi is back home in one piece and is a genuinely nice pooch as well,’ Rudd told reporters.
The canine star appeared composed and relaxed, showing no signs of stress – she even welcomed strangers with a sniff and a lick.
Exactly where Sabi has been or what happened to her during the past 14 months will probably never be known, though her good condition when she was found indicated somebody had been looking after her, military spokesman Brig. Brian Dawson said.
The dog was being tested for diseases before a decision was made on whether she can return to Australia.
More than 1,500 Australian troops are in Afghanistan and most are involved in training Afghan security forces. Among them are units that use dogs to sniff out roadside bombs and other explosive booby traps.
Come on then, throw the ball: Sabri will be returned to Australia after having her health checked out