When Iraqi and coalition forces pushed into Mosul, fleeing ISIS fighters left behind hundreds of deadly improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Some of these IEDs were laid to limit access to water systems and other key infrastructure, while others were designed to thwart rebuilding efforts. Still other IEDs were clearly intended to terrorize Iraqi families returning to their homes: explosives rigged to light switches and water taps, hidden in household appliances, buried under debris, and even left behind in children’s toys. With support from U.S. Embassy Baghdad and the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, explosive ordnance disposal teams depend on the unique skills of specially trained dogs like Aron and Vivi to safely identify these concealed hazards that are impacting the ability of families to safely return to and rebuild their communities.
Aron and Vivi work with the State Department’s partner Janus Global Operations on the difficult and dangerous work of surveying infrastructure for explosive hazards. This allows local governments and humanitarian organizations to safely conduct the hard work of repairing and rebuilding that infrastructure, a key first step to enabling families to return home and begin bringing daily life back to normal.
A trained mine detection dog and its handler can search an area up to 30 times faster than a human demining technician without compromising accuracy. Most days you can find Aron and Vivi leading the way through neighborhoods in and around Mosul, sweeping through the rubble, brush, and buildings with their handlers to sniff out explosives left behind by ISIS. The dogs signal areas requiring further search by technical teams from Janus Global and its local Iraqi partner organization, Al-Fahad. Their keen noses prove invaluable to uncovering ISIS booby traps, such as the bomb they recently discovered tucked into an office water cooler, which would have been nearly impossible for their two-legged colleagues to identify on their own.
With smart investments in the work of partners like Janus, the United States demonstrates its enduring commitment to partnership with the Iraqi people. ISIS tried to make it impossible for civilians to re-inhabit their communities either by destroying or by hiding explosives around critical infrastructure, such as electrical systems, water treatment facilities, hospitals, public health centers, and schools. However, the work of Aron, Vivi, and other detection dogs is helping save lives while expediting stabilization efforts by getting businesses back online, families back to functioning communities, and kids back to schools. Importantly, these efforts are not only making a difference in the lives of ordinary Iraqis, but they are also helping to prevent the return of ISIS, a violent and merciless terrorist group which threatens international security, including the security of the United States and its allies.
Since 1993, the United States has invested more than $2.9 billion in more than 100 countries around the world, including Iraq, to reduce the harmful worldwide effects of at-risk, illicitly-proliferated, and indiscriminately-used conventional weapons of war. To learn more about the United States’ global conventional weapons destruction efforts, please consult our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety, and follow us on Twitter @StateDeptPM.
About the Author: Macy Johnson is an Assistant Program Manager for Yemen, Lebanon, and Iraq in the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.