by Jerome CARTILLIER
Agence France Presse
WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) — “So this is Conan — right now, probably the world’s most famous dog.”
In a stream of superlatives, Donald Trump on Monday introduced to the world the military dog involved in the raid that led to the death of Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“Conan did a fantastic job,” the US president told the White House press corps, assembled for a brief, unannounced ceremony with the Belgian Malinois and its handler.
“So brilliant, so smart,” said Trump, joined for the event by First Lady Melania Trump and Vice President Mike Pence who lavished fulsome praise of his own on the four-legged “hero.”
“The dog is incredible,” Trump continued. “Conan is a tough cookie. And nobody is going to mess with Conan.”
According to the US account of the raid on Baghdadi last month, Conan cornered the jihadist leader in a dead-end tunnel in his Syrian hideout, where Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest, killing himself and two children.
Conan was injured by the electric cables exposed in the detonation but appeared to have made a full recovery.
“Conan was very badly hurt, as you know,” Trump told reporters. “They thought maybe he was not going to recover. He recovered actually very quickly and has since gone on very important raids.”
“I love this dog,” declared the president, saying Conan had been awarded a “medal and a plaque” for its service.
The US president — who ended a tradition going back more than a century by not having a dog in the White House — has made much of Conan’s role in the raid.
Trump had highlighted the dog’s injuries when he initially announced the high-profile October 26 operation.
He went on to declassify the military dog’s identity — a closely guarded secret — by retweeting its picture.
And he went as far as publishing a photoshopped image of himself bestowing the canine hero with the Medal of Honor, the country’s highest military distinction.
– ‘Ultimate fighter, ultimate everything’ –
Monday’s ceremony triggered a brief flurry of confusion when the White House let it be known after the event that the canine “hero” was in fact a female — only to later reverse course, confirming Conan was well and truly a good boy.
Details about Conan’s life, achievements and family background are scant, but he certainly comes from good stock: US Navy SEALs used a Belgian Malinois in the 2011 raid in Pakistan that killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The head of US Central Command, General Kenneth McKenzie, has called Conan a “critical member of our forces,” with an impressive record of 50 combat missions in four years of service.
Calling Conan the “ultimate fighter, ultimate everything,” Trump said the dog was “primetime, age-wise” and nowhere close to retiring.
“I asked one question,” Trump said. “I said, ‘What chance would a strong man have — really strong, tough, a fighter — what chance would this person have against Conan, without the guns? What chance?’ And I guess the answer, pretty much, was ‘none.'”
The US leader also took the opportunity to trumpet once more the raid on Baghdadi, who had led IS since 2014 and at the time of his death was the world’s most wanted man.
“It was a flawless attack,” Trump said. “We have done a lot of work since the raid. Certain things have happened that are very important,” he added, without going into details.
© Agence France-Presse