SAJJAN’S WAR CLAIMS
Minister to face House
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan will get a chance Monday to explain to Parliament why he tried to deceive an audience of Indian security experts by claiming that he was “the architect” of Canada’s biggest military operation in Afghanistan.
Sajjan is expected to be in the House of Commons for Question Period when it reconvenes after a two-week break, having just returned to Canada from an around-the-world trip on government business that took him for six days to the country of his birth, India, as well as to Malaysia.
The minister issued a second, more abject apology via Facebook over the weekend for the speech he gave April 18 to the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation security think-tank than the original explanation provided to Postmedia. The newspaper group had asked him for comment on Thursday before publishing a story in which an officer deeply informed about OP Medusa accused him of having made “a bald-faced lie.”
“I made a mistake in describing my role,” Sajjan said on Facebook. “I wish to retract that description and apologize for it. I am truly sorry.”
Sajjan was a reservist major assigned to Task Force Kandahar during Operation Medusa in 2006.
Retired Lt.-Col. Shane Schreiber, the soldier considered by many colleagues to be the most knowledgeable about the architecture of Op Medusa, told the Post in an interview late Friday that “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’s second mea culpa came over the weekend as he continued to be by turns condemned or mocked on social media for having boasted that he had been the mastermind of Op Medusa. The former British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own) armoured officer served as a liaison officer during the operation, providing intelligence assessments about the Taliban to NATO’s Regional Command South commander, then Brig.-Gen. Dave Fraser, whose staff put the battle plan together for approval by a British general in Kabul.
“What I should have said is 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 told his Facebook followers. “Operation Medusa was successful because of leadership of MGen (Ret’d) Fraser and the extraordinary team with whom I had the honour of serving.
“I was proud to have served with Canadian, American, and Afghan soldiers who made Operation Medusa successful. I am honoured to serve the women and men of the Canadian Forces today as their Minister.”
It was Sajjan who personally inserted “the line about Medusa” into the speech, his spokeswoman Jordan Owens said Sunday. An earlier draft of the speech without that reference had been prepared for him by the department, she said.
In explaining why Sajjan was taking public responsibility for having inserted the words in his speech himself, Owens said the minister did “not want it to appear in any way that we are suggesting a public servant was responsible for this.”
Sajjan’s claim is not the first time the former lieutenant-colonel has referred to his role in the battle in this way, CBC News reported on Sunday. On a regional B.C. podcast called Conversations That Matter, he said the current chief of the defence staff, Gen. Jonathan Vance, considered him to be the central figure, CBC said.
“If I could quote him, he said I was the architect of Operation Medusa, one of the biggest operations since the Korean War that Canada has led,” Sajjan said in July 2015, when he was running as a Liberal candidate, according to the report.
In his speech in India, Sajjan said the operation he claimed to have designed had “removed 1,500 Taliban fighters off the battlefield.” Some soldiers and scholars who were involved in Medusa or studied the battle believe only about 500 Taliban may have been involved.
As well as appearing in Parliament, the first-term Vancouver South MP is scheduled to appear Wednesday at an event at Ottawa’s Chateau Laurier Hotel hosted by the Conference of Defence Associations regarding the government’s Defence Policy Review.
Vance “will have no comment” regarding the claims that Sajjan made in India regarding his role in Op Medusa, Brig.-Gen. Marc Theriault, chief of public affairs for the Canadian Forces, said Sunday.
Although Vance served two combat tours in Kandahar himself, they began several years after Op Medusa took place. Vance was in Canada at the time of Medusa and had no role in it.
Medusa had “many architects,” although Sajjan “was not one of them,” said Schreiber, who was involved in the hunt for Osama bin Laden during Canada’s first combat tour in Kandahar only months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US. He left the Canadian Forces five years ago and now lives in northern Alberta.
“Harj probably realized it was wrong to take total credit,” Schreiber said, using the nickname that other soldiers in Afghanistan had for him. “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.”
By all accounts, Sajjan was a remarkably well-liked officer and was respected for his work. That is why dozens of soldiers who served with him in Afghanistan said that they were baffled about why, having been part of such an honour-obsessed culture, he would not understand that it was wrong to claim a far bigger role for himself in the long battle during the late summer and fall of 2006.
“Harj did a great job on tribal tactics and what the enemy was up to,” Schreiber 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.”
The Canadians led the fight against the Taliban for control of the Arghandab River Valley to the west of Kandahar City but it also involved substantial numbers of U.S., Dutch and Afghan forces.
“Medusa was a huge team effort,” Schreiber said.