Army dog killed in Afghanistan given posthumous medal
A British Army dog killed alongside her handler in Afghanistan is to be honoured with what is called the highest military award for an animal.
Sasha, a four-year-old yellow Labrador who was trained to hunt out explosives, is credited with saving the lives of scores of soldiers and civilians.
She will be awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal, which the charity says is the animal version of the Victoria Cross.
She died alongside L/Cpl Kenneth Rowe in a Taliban attack in 2008.
Sasha was deployed with handlers from the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, attached to the 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment.
Alongside her handler, she was tasked with carrying out advance patrols to find safe routes for soldiers and sniffing out weapons and IEDs.
The PDSA said: "Sasha's determination to search and push forward - despite gruelling conditions and relentless Taliban attacks - was a morale boost to the soldiers who entrusted their lives to her weapon-finding capability.
"On one occasion recalled by regimental colleagues, Sasha was searching a building in Garmsir when she detected two mortars and a large quantity of weaponry, including explosives and mines.
"This find alone undoubtedly saved the lives of many soldiers and civilians."
In 2008 she was assigned to 24-year-old L/Cpl Rowe and the pair were considered the best in the Kandahar region.
They died together on 24 July 2008 when their routine patrol was ambushed by a rocket-propelled grenade attack.
L/Cpl Rowe, from West Moor near Newcastle, had been due to return home the day before he died but wanted to stay on to complete a planned operation because he was concerned about a lack of cover for comrades.
Sasha had 15 confirmed finds of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), mortars and hidden weaponry.
Col Neil Smith QHVS, director of the Army Veterinary and Remount Services, said: "This prestigious award recognises how her devotion and skills undoubtedly saved the lives of many troops in Afghanistan, and acknowledges the excellent work our military working dogs and their handlers do.
"Sadly, this award is posthumous as both Sasha and her handler, Lance Corporal Ken Rowe, were killed in enemy action in Afghanistan in 2008.
"Our thoughts remain with L/Cpl Rowe's family and this award will give us the opportunity to once more celebrate his and Sasha's immeasurable contributions to military operations."
Sasha is the 65th animal to be awarded the medal since it was launched in 1943.
Other winners of the Dickin Medal - named after the charity's founder Maria Dickin - include 32 World War Two messenger pigeons, three horses and a cat.
PDSA director general Jan McLoughlin said: "The award is even more poignant as we approach the centenary of World War One and are reminded of the huge debt we owe the animals who serve in times of conflict.
"This medal, recognised worldwide as the animals' Victoria Cross, honours both Sasha's unwavering service and her ultimate sacrifice.
"Her story exemplifies the dedication of man's best friend and reminds us all of the amazing contribution they make to our lives."