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When Sabi the Australian sniffer dog was reunited with her army handlers in Afghanistan more than a year after she went missing during a battle, officials said she had been found by chance, living wild, by an American soldier.
The reality of the feel-good story appears to be very different: Sabi was allegedly kidnapped by the Taleban.
Officials billed her return as a miracle and only released the news once she had been photographed with the top US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, and the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, who were in Oruzgan for a Remembrance Day visit.
But tribal elders say the Australian troops knew who had Sabi all along and at one point even arrested the kidnapperâ€™s father and orchestrated a dog-for-dad swap. Khadeeg Rakim, the regionâ€™s deputy governor, said that Sabi was held hostage by a Taleban commander called Mullah Hamdullah. Afghans said that the Australians made it known on local radio that they would exchange the dog for the father, according to a report by a former Dutch diplomat, Martine van Bijlert. The locals said that Mullah Hamdullah refused to negotiate and his father was released soon afterwards.
In the version of events told to Ms van Bijlert, Mullah Hamdullah tired of his prize and sent the dog with a local cleric to negotiate a ransom. He wanted $20,000 but his envoy returned more or less empty handed. â€œThey might have given him some pocket money,â€ she said.