White House officials this week honored military working dogs as a “vital” part of the country’s national defense as part of the annual National K-9 Veterans Day.

“From carrying messages and laying telegraph wire to detecting explosives and acting as guard and patrol dogs, military working dogs have a storied history of assisting the world’s greatest fighting force in carrying out their missions,” President Donald Trump said in a message released Friday morning.

“As a nation, we will continue to support our working dogs who loyally protect the American people and our way of life.”

The release comes amid significant national turmoil related to the spread of the coronavirus and the military response to another round of attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East by Iranian-backed forces.

But the message also invoked more positive military news from last fall, when one of the military’s canines helped U.S. forces take down Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. At the time, the dog — Conan — became a national celebrity, as details of his efforts in the raid and resulting minor injuries were released by the Defense Department.

Conan, the military working dog injured in the raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi, was hailed by President Trump as the "ultimate warrior."

In his message Friday, Trump repeated that work by Conan (still attached to 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta) as an example of the important service of the animals.

“Many of our bravest and most adept military personnel were involved in the raid that brought this evil ISIS leader to justice, and Conan bravely worked by their side,” the president said. “Thanks to Conan, no American personnel were lost in the operation, further demonstrating the vital role K-9s play in safeguarding our national security.”

About 2,500 military working dogs are active in the armed forces today. Since the program was established in 1942, more than 30,000 dogs have served alongside service members.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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