National Post

Politician Sajjan claimed battle credit, not ‘Harj the soldier’

- Matthew Fisher

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan was not “the architect” of Canada’s biggest battle since the Korean War as he claimed in a speech in India last week, according to the chief of operations for NATO in southern Afghanista­n during Operation Medusa in 2006.

Lt.- Col. Shane Schreiber ( Ret.) said, “Harj the soldier probably would not have said that. Harj the politician did, thinking that he could get away with it. When you are careless with words as a politician, that can haunt you.”

Sajjan apologized Thursday to those who served with him in Afghanista­n after his claim to have been the mastermind of Medusa was criticized “as a bald- faced lie” by an officer deeply familiar with the battle plan and other officers who knew about or were part of its genesis.

“What I should have said was that our military successes are the result of the leadership, service and sacrifice of the many dedicated women and men in the Canadian Forces,” Sajjan said in a statement. “I regret that I didn’t say this then, but I want to do so now.”

Schreiber, who served on Canada’s first combat tour in Kandahar only months after the 9/ 11 attacks on the U.S., said Medusa had “many architects. He was not one of them.”

“Harj probably realized it was wrong to take total credit,” said Schreiber, who left the Canadian Forces in 2012 and now lives in northern Alberta. “I would say that he lives in a different world now. Any good soldier would not try to steal another soldier’s honour. But it is different when you are a politician.”

Paraphrasi­ng an old expression, he said: “Success has a million fathers. But failure is an orphan.”

Repeating what other soldiers who took part in Medusa have said since word of Sajjan’s taking credit for designing the Medusa battle plan began causing intense controvers­y in military circles this week, Schreiber said that the minister had been a well-liked and respected soldier.

“Harj did a great job on tribal tactics and what the enemy was up to,” he said. “He was one of a couple of officers who told us we had a bigger problem with the Taliban than we thought we had and helped define that problem.”

Sajjan was a liaison officer and a reservist major from the British Columbia Regiment at the time of Medusa.

He worked in i ntelligenc­e and was not directly involved in battle planning, Schreiber said.

This work was done by Schreiber, an Australian colonel and a Canadian major. They worked on the staff of then- Brig.- Gen. Dave Fraser, the Canadian who ran Regional Command South for the Internatio­nal Securi ty and Assistance Force ( ISAF). Fraser’s battle plans were sent to a British general in Kabul for approval, Schreiber said.

Medusa was a particular­ly complex operation, Schreiber said. It involved a Dutch reconnaiss­ance company and artillery, most of a U. S. battalion and U. S. Special Forces as well as Afghan and British forces and U.S. attack helicopter­s and fighter jets.

“The Canadian media always play up the Canadian part but it was a multi- national effort that really tested NATO because so many nations had unwritten caveats and refused to come and play a combat role,” Schreiber said. “A lot of time was spent figuring out who could come and play on the friendly side.

“Medusa was a huge team effort.”

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