NATO forces operating in the Balkans are introducing a form of transport that they have found is better at navigating treacherous mountain passes than the high-tech vehicles favored by modern armies — a breed of mules from southern Spain.
The German army has identified mules from the Murcia region as the perfect answer to their problems on peacekeeping missions in areas where even tracked vehicles cannot go.
They bought several mules to test last year and decided they were up to the task.
“Their use will be for transporting pieces of heavy military weapons in mountainous areas and for peace and humanitarian missions being carried out by European armies in difficult terrain,” explained Angel Garcia Lidon, of the Murcian regional government’s agriculture department.
The mules were due to go into training in Bavaria before joining the NATO mission to Kosovo.
The animals are only 1.5m tall, making it easy for soldiers to lift heavy loads on and off their backs. They can carry 200kg each and refuel on grass, hay or anything they find to eat along the way.
The Murcian mule, which used to be a favorite for mule trains and plowing, has all but disappeared from the Spanish countryside. A handful of farmers still breed them, though they admit this is mainly out of nostalgia for an animal that was once a key part of the local economy.
“One is sad that they are going because we have bred and raised them here,” said Antonio Ruiz, 58, who breeds them on his farm near the southeastern city of Lorca.
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