President Donald Trump honored Conan the hero dog who helped run down terror leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi with a ceremony at the White House Rose Garden Monday where he saluted the animal’s toughness in the field as it solicited pats from Mike Pence.
Trump appeared with Conan outside the Oval Office and lauded his accomplishments, after the military flew the highly-trained animal to Washington from the Middle East, where the U.S. continues to try to take down the remnants of ISIS.
‘Conan is a tough cookie. No one is going to mess with Conan,’ said Trump – who famously broke precedent by failing to get a pet to live with him at the White House.
Conan had already become famous after the White House and Defense Department officials told the story of how he helped run down the ISIS chief before Baghdadi blew himself up last month, killing himself and young family members and injuring the animal.
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump present Conan, the military working dog injured in the successful operation targeting Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, before the media in the Rose Garden at the White House, Monday, Nov. 25, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
The president pulled off the official ceremony after earlier retweeting a photo-shopped image of himself placing a medal on the dog amid fascination with Conan’s role. For the event to happen, the animal had to be moved from the war zone.
‘This is the ultimate fighter. Ultimate everything,’ Trump said.
‘It’s incredible, the sense of smell, or whatever it may be,’ Trump said of service dogs’ talent.
‘They were going to put a muzzle on the dog and I thought that was a good idea, but then it gets even more violent,’ Trump said.
Conan helped corner Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as military members chased the ISIS leader
Vice President Mike Pence gave Conan repeated affectionate pats during the ceremony. Neither Trump nor First Lady Melania Pence petted the dog, as is normal protocol with service animals
Neither Trump nor First Lady Melania Pence petted the dog, as is normal protocol with service animals
Mike Pence called Conan a ‘hero’
Trump said an award and certificate for Conan would be displayed at the White House
HEAD SCRATCHER: Vice President Mike Pence (L) pets US Army dog Conan in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington
The president spoke at some length about the attributes of military service animals, while Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly patted the animal. First Lady Melania Trump stood alongside her husband during the brief ceremony, sporting a Dolce & Gabbana coat
She did not, however, respond favorably to a reporter’s question about whether the Trumps would adopt the dog – a highly-trained military asset – for son Barron.
She answered with a simple ‘No.’
But it was Pence who got and gave the most puppy love during the ceremony. Pence repeatedly scratched Conan on the head while the president spoke. When Pence paused briefly to deliver his own remarks, Conan looked up at Pence for more petting.
‘Conan is really a hero,’ said Pence of the Belgian Malinois, a breed of animal also used by the Secret Service and general law enforcement for their keen sense of smell sniffing out explosives or drugs.
The dog responded favorably the Indiana governor, who himself just flew back from Iraq after a brief pre-holiday visit. Conan wagged his tail and rubbed his head against the vice president’s hand, repeatedly using his head and nose to solicit more petting.
Trump used a range of adjectives to describe Conan, including ‘very, very special’; ‘incredible’; ‘so brilliant and so smart’; ‘extraordinary’; ‘tough cookie’ and ’the ultimate fighter, the ultimate everything.’
Trump called Conan a ‘tough cookie,’ while Pence tended to the Belgian Malinois’ softer side
Trump said the dog would get a certificate and an award that ‘we’re going to put up in the White House.
Trump even appeared to make a joke at humanity’s expense.
‘They’ll go for about six years from that time,’ Trump said of service dogs, who he said are brought in for training about one year or a year and a half.
After the six year period, ‘maybe the reflexes aren’t quite as good,’ he said. ‘Would never happen to us,’ Trump, 73, quipped,’ days after a lap about his unexpected trip to Walter Reed for an unplanned ‘phase one’ of his annual physical.
Trump said the Special Forces who worked with Conan did a ‘fantastic job,’ but said they couldn’t appear with the dog for ‘obvious’ reasons. The White House said Conan’s normal handler took part in the al-Baghdadi raid and couldn’t be identified.
Pence said the men had met with U.S. Special Forces before the ceremony.
Trump tweeted last month that the dog, whose identity he declassified, would visit the White House.
The image showed Trump presenting Conan with a medal, with the caption ‘AMERICAN HERO!’
The president then followed that up by confirming he would be making it a reality, saying: ‘Very cute recreation, but the “live” version of Conan will be leaving the Middle East for the White House sometime next week!’
It came amid criticism of his ‘cute’ post because it had superimposed the dog onto Vietnam veteran James McCloughan, who was presented the Medal of Honor at the White House in 2017.
President Trump shared a photoshopped image of himself giving a military medal to the dog that cornered ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during this weekend’s raid
Although Trump’s critics slammed the president as disrespectful for posting the altered image, McCloughan himself said he didn’t mind and found it a fitting tribute for Conan.
‘This recognizes the dog is part of that team of brave people,’ McCloughan told the New York Times.
McCloughan laughed when a reporter showed him the altered image, and noted that he himself had worked with a military dog in Vietnam.
‘They are very courageous,’ he said of military canines.
He also expressed concern for the injured dog, telling the NYT: ‘Once a medic, always a medic.’
Conan was hurt after being exposed to live electrical cables but has returned to active duty, the Pentagon said last month.
The image is a combination of the official government photo of the dog (left) and Trump awarding the Medal of Honor to James McCloughan (right), a Vietnam vet, in 2017
The 71-year-old is the first person to be given the medal since President Trump took office
Gen. Frank McKenzie, who leads U.S. Central Command, told reporters the dog was injured when it came in contact with the cables as it pursued al-Baghdadi in a tunnel underneath a compound in northwestern Syria.
McKenzie said the dog has worked with special operations forces for four years and taken part in about 50 missions. He said such working dogs are ‘critical members of our forces.’
At a press conference Wednesday, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, said that Conan had returned to duty
Earlier, the president latched on to the dog’s story during the victory lap he took over the successful al-Baghdadi raid.
‘We have declassified a picture of the wonderful dog (name not declassified) that did such a GREAT JOB in capturing and killing the Leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi!’ the president tweeted Monday.
While the Pentagon has not officially released the dog’s name, Newsweek reported that the dog is named Conan.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley said Monday that the dog was ‘still in theater,’ adding that the pooch was ‘slightly wounded and fully recovering.’