Top UK gallantry award for French dog that ran through flames in Mali to attack terrorists

Leuk, a Belgian Malinois, belonged to French special forces

A French special forces dog called Leuk, who played a key role in anti-terrorist activity in Mali, was posthumously awarded a British animal charity's top award for gallantry.

The Belgian Malinois saved lives by cornering insurgents during an operation in Mali, creating distractions and dashing through flames under fire.

He served with the K9 division of French Special Forces' Kieffer commando unit after two years of training.

His duties included detecting explosives and neutralising attackers without killing them.

On Friday, he received the posthumous People's Dispensary for Sick Animals Dickin Medal for his bravery during an operation in April 2019, when two armed insurgents were positioned in thick vegetation near troops. The medal is recognised worldwide as the animals’ Victoria Cross.

"Leuk was a very impressive dog ... his skills were just exceptional and we suffer his loss a lot," the troops' commanding officer, named only as Nicolas, said in a PDSA video.

"Leuk ran through flames as the enemy continued to shoot at him and his team," the veterinary charity said.

"He attacked the enemy relentlessly, allowing the unit to successfully neutralise them."

Later in the mission he created a diversion by attacking an insurgent allowing the commandos to neutralise four more.

Then while searching for explosives, he intercepted another armed insurgent.

"Not only did he go in but he engaged the enemy in combat for over five minutes," his handler, named only as Forest, said in video footage with his face concealed.

"Thanks to that, I can talk to you today."

The five-year-old dog, nicknamed Leuk la Chance – Lucky Leuk – died in a subsequent operation in May 2019 when he was killed by an armed insurgent.

He was repatriated with his body covered by the French flag and was received with a guard of honour, like any human casualty of war.

The French unit plans to unveil a memorial on May 2, the second anniversary of his death, in memory of all dogs killed in combat.

The PDSA Dickin Medal has been presented since the Second World War to animals that show exceptional courage and devotion while serving in war and is the highest award of its kind.

A handout picture released by the French Navy via Britain's People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) on April 22, 2021 shows French Military Working Dog Leuk training with French Navy commandos in Brittany, northwest France, in early 2019 ahead of Leuk’s deployment to Mali.  A French special forces dog called Leuk has won a British animal charity's top award for gallantry, after he saved lives by cornering insurgents during an anti-terrorist operation in Mali. The five-year-old dog, nicknamed "Leuk la Chance" -- "Lucky Leuk" -- died in a subsequent operation in May 2019, when he was killed by an armed insurgent. Leuk received the posthumous PDSA Dickin Medal for bravery.
 - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / FRENCH NAVY / PDSA " - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
 / AFP / People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) / French Navy / - / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / FRENCH NAVY / PDSA " - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

It was first awarded in 1943 by the PDSA's founder Maria Dickin. Recipients include dogs, pigeons, horses and a cat. In November, the award was given to a retired military working dog called Kuno who lost his back legs after suffering gunshot wounds while tackling insurgents.

Mali has since 2012 struggled to contain an Islamist insurgency.

France, the former colonial power, intervened in 2013 and now has about 5,000 soldiers deployed across the semi-arid Sahel region.

Leuk is the first French military working dog to receive the medal, which is inscribed "For Gallantry" and "We Also Serve".

A French police dog killed in a security services raid after the 2015 Paris attacks previously won the award. Diesel's death led to the hashtag #JeSuisChien (I Am A Dog) trending on Twitter.

More on the Dickin Medal

EDITOR'S PICKS
NEWSLETTERS