Truth being the first casualty of war has taken a decidedly different turn with growing outrage in both the political and military communities about Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s characterization of himself as the architect of Operation Medusa in Afghanistan.
The bloody, protracted battle in the scorched grape fields west of Kandahar city in September 2006 was a significant milestone in Canada’s five-year combat mission in the country and an emotional touchstone for many soldiers involved.
Sajjan’s claim, made earlier this month during a visit to India, is not the first time the former lieutenant-colonel has referred to his role in the battle in this way.
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.
“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.
The political and social media firestorm that followed the India speech, made April 18, prompted a pinched apology from the minister, who regularly references his three tours of Afghanistan as a reserve officer to burnish his credibility in the defence portfolio. He followed up with an apology on Facebook Saturday.
His appointment to cabinet in November 2015 was followed by a series of flattering stories about his service, including photos of him smiling in the field, clad in a flak jacket, prompting some to call him “Canada’s badass defence minister.”
There has, however, never been a critical examination of his role beyond vague suggestions that he did some intelligence work.
In fairness, Sajjan has tried on occasion to downplay the notion he was an intelligence officer, but that has only muddied the perception.
He has declined to discuss his work in Kandahar in detail.
Soldiers who were there in 2006 tell CBC News that Sajjan did have a key role, but at “no time was he in on the planning of the operation.”
Soon after arriving he was “bolted to the hip” of the battle group commanders.
First it was Lt.-Col. Ian Hope and then, in September 2006, Lt.-Col. Omar Lavoie, who led the fight in Zhari district against Taliban militants who had chosen to stand and fight a conventional battle rather a hit-and-run guerilla campaign.
Sajjan was the liaison between Canadian commanders and two local Afghan leaders, the notorious governor Asadullah Khalid and Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half-brother of the former Afghan president and head of the Kandahar provincial council.
“My responsibilities were vague at first,” Sajjan told military historian Sean Maloney in the book Fighting for…