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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 April, 2003, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
Buster sniffs out Iraqi weapons stash
By Nick Parker
In southern Iraq

A dog of war was hailed the hero of a British Army raid on an Iraqi stronghold on Tuesday.

Explosives sniffer dog Buster unearthed a huge hidden cache of arms from an enemy camp in a dawn raid on five suspect properties.

Buster with handler Sgt Danny Morgan
Buster playing with an assault rifle magazine, and handler Sgt Morgan

The specially trained springer spaniel's find was followed by the arrest of 16 Iraqi militia men terrorising the southern village of Safwan.

And tension eased so much after the raid that British soldiers discarded their helmets and patrolled the area in berets for the first time.

Brown-eyed Buster, five, was in the spearhead of a raid launched by 200 troops from the Duke of Wellington Regiment, the RAF Regiment and the Queen Dragoon Guards.

His handler, Sergeant Danny Morgan, 37, from Aldershot in Hampshire, said: "The soldiers had found nothing so I unleashed Buster and sent him in.

"The rule is that the dog always goes first in case there are booby traps and I was obviously concerned for him as he started his search.

"Within minutes he became excited in a particular area and I knew he'd discovered something.

"The Iraqis we spoke to had denied having any weapons.

Buster's not only doing a job out here - he's my best friend
Sergeant Danny Morgan

"But Buster found their arms even though they'd hidden them in a wall cavity, covered it with a sheet of tin then pushed a wardrobe in front of it.

"We'd never have found the weapons without him and they would still be a threat to our troops and the local population.

"I'm very proud of him."

Buster's haul included AK47 assault rifles, a pistol, six grenades with fuses, 10 more grenade fuses, 160 rounds of ammunition in magazines and another 79 loose bullets plus bomb-making equipment.

Suitcases full of cash, a suspected stash of heroin and crack cocaine and pro-Saddam Hussein Baath Party literature were also discovered in the buildings used by the mafia-style gangs.

Unwanted pet

Sergeant Morgan, of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, keeps Buster at his home where he doubles as a family pet for his five-year-old daughter Emma and wife Nicki, a 32-year-old nurse.

The handler said: "Dogs like Buster are recruited when they're aged one-to-three from unwanted pets centres like Battersea Dogs Home.

"I trained him by teaching him to fetch weapons like guns and ammunition instead of sticks and balls.

"He loves his job simply because he thinks it's a game and obviously has no idea he's going into dangerous situations.

"I end up doing all the worrying because he's not only doing a job out here - he's my best friend.

"Buster is the only arms and explosives search dog working in Iraq right now and has been worth his weight in gold today."

The raid was nerve-wracking because we'd been warned these men were heavily armed
Corporal Ian Wilson

Buster is so valuable to the army that he has even been given his own protective gear in case of chemical or biological attack.

When Scud or gas attack warnings sound, he leaps into a special sealed pen equipped with an electric motor that pumps air through a gas mask filter.

Duke of Wellington Regiment Corporal Ian Wilson, 26, of Doncaster South Yorkshire, said: "The raid was nerve-wracking because we'd been warned these men were heavily armed and might be ready to stand and fight.

"We surrounded the buildings and crept up to the houses stealthily with our weapons at the ready.

"But thankfully we caught most of the Iraqis in their beds and they looked totally shocked as we arrested them at gunpoint.

"I've never worked with a dog before but he did fantastically well - and he's become a firm favourite around our camp."

Army commanders said the success of the mission - launched after tip-offs from locals - has helped make Safwan safer for both locals and British forces.

  • This is pooled copy from Nick Parker of The Sun, in southern Iraq.

    Sgt Danny Morgan, Royal Army Veterinary Corps
    "Buster found a cache of weapons, explosives, bomb-making equipment and grenades"

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