A special forces dog that detected explosives and insurgents during an assault on a Taliban position in Afghanistan has been given a prestigious award for gallantry.
Mali, a Belgian Malinois, received the Dickin medal for saving the lives of Special Boat Service troops during the 2012 operation.
The Dickin medal has been described by the PDSA charity that awards it as the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross, the UK’s highest honour for gallantry.
Cpl Daniel Hatley, who trained Mali when the dog was a puppy, said: “I am extremely proud of Mali. The way he conducted himself when it mattered most enabled my colleagues to achieve success in close combat.”
Mali’s special forces handler, who cannot be named for security reasons, was also awarded a gallantry medal for his part in the operation.
During his deployment with the Special Boat Service, Mali was credited with giving British forces the upper hand in a near eight-hour operation to dislodge a heavily armed Taliban force from a multi-storey building.
He was wounded by three grenade blasts, but still managed to indicate the locations of enemy fighters. That gave the British forces time to react in close-quarters combat.
The dog was sent through direct fire twice and was hoisted up the outside of the building several times to provide the assault force with a foothold. The first two explosions that wounded Mali caused injuries to his chest, front and rear legs.
Another detonated close to his face, causing the loss of his front tooth and damage to his ear. But Mali continued to push forward and remained close to his handler.
The PDSA described the dog as an “incredibly worthy recipient” of the medal. “Being awarded the PDSA Dickin medal recognises Mali’s vital role within the force that day,” Hatley said.
Lt Col Abby DuBaree, from the Royal Army Veterinary Corps (RAVC), to which Mali is attached, said the award was “extremely well deserved”, and added that stories such as Mali’s were “sobering to read and help to demonstrate the key role that animals continue to play in our armed forces”.
Brig Roly Walker, the colonel commandant of the RAVC, said: “As long as we’ve had soldiers, we’ve had animals, and I think we always will have them.” The award was a recognition of “this unique bond”, he added.
The medal was introduced by the PDSA’s founder, Maria Dickin, in 1943. It is the highest award any animal can achieve while serving in military conflict. The medal is a large bronze medallion, bearing the phrases: “For gallantry” and “We also serve” within a laurel wreath.
The striped ribbon is green, dark brown and sky blue, representing water, earth and air to symbolise the naval, land and air forces.
Mali is the 69th recipient of the medal and the 32nd dog to win it. The award was also given to 32 second world war messenger pigeons, four horses and a cat.
The charity’s director general, Jan McLoughlin, said: “Mali has displayed a truly awesome ability and determination to seek out explosives and insurgents during a key operation.
“To achieve this while exposed to close combat and such intense enemy attack makes him an incredibly worthy recipient of the PDSA Dickin medal.”
the guardian contributed to this report.