Adorable Snapshots of Stray Puppies Who Stole the Hearts of Soldiers in Afghanistan

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Staff sergeant S and his new puppy friend in Afghanistan
Image: Puppy Rescue Mission

In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terror attack on New York City, U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan, beginning an intense, over 13-year-long war in the South Asian country. The conflict officially came to an end on December 28, 2014 – but not before the spilling of a shocking amount of blood. More than 2,200 U.S. troops and roughly 3,500 of their overseas counterparts became fatalities of war. Heartbreakingly, though, Afghan civilians were hit hardest, with some estimating that as many as 21,000 – maybe more – died during the fighting.

Amid the horrors and brutality of war, however, powerful stories and images emerged, offering brief respites of beauty, humanity and hope. One such touching example of these involves battle-ready coalition soldiers finding a place in their hearts for stray Afghan dogs. Indeed, the following images of U.S. soldiers and their new best beasties are a celebration of human kindness.

First up, this young Afghan pooch, which was found trembling on a cargo truck trailer. After soldiers discovered the desperate dog, they stashed her in their woolen hats and nursed her back to health. They also named her Aaliyah and were soon smitten. “It is amazing to see the smile she puts on everyone’s face,” explained a soldier known only as “Staff Sergeant S.” Indeed, the officer didn’t feel complete without her back home and reached out to Puppy Rescue Mission to “bring this gorgeous girl back to the States.” The organization obliged and – with the fundraising help of rock bands Disturbed and Godsmack – the Staff Sergeant and his new best friend were reunited in New York in 2012.

U.S. Army Private First Class Donny Eslinger and his pup Smoke Pup Barbarian
Image: Eslinger family via Patch

This snap of U.S. Army Private First Class Donny Eslinger and his rescued buddy Smoke Pup Barbarian has quite a backstory. In August 2011 Eslinger “bought” Smoke for a few cigarettes and took the pup under his wing. On September 24 of that year, however, the soldier was gravely wounded in a mortar assault and was eventually flown back to the U.S., where President Obama would award him a Purple Heart. After the private was injured, his army superior contacted Puppy Rescue Mission to explain the bond that Eslinger and some of his fellow soldiers had with the canine, writing, “Smoke was the only bit of morale that made these kids forget where they were.” In the end, Eslinger was reunited with Smoke in Maryland.

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U.S. soldiers offer stray puppies water in Afghanistan
Image: Staff Sgt. Ryan Matson

This touching shot of combat engineer Private Brice Turner sharing his water rations with two thirsty pooches was taken in April 2011. The Afghan National Army Weapons Company had housed the pair of canines at a surveillance installation close to Jalalabad.

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