Sajjan 'truly sorry' for saying he was 'architect' of Afghanistan operation
Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan has apologized for saying he was the “architect” of a key military operation in Afghanistan that dealt a serious blow to the Taliban, saying his remarks were a “mistake.”
In a speech in New Delhi last week, Sajjan spoke about his role in Operation Medusa in 2006. The three-week long operation involved Canadian, U.S. and Afghan troops as they led a coordinated assault on 1,400 Taliban fighters.
The mission was largely considered a success, with about 550 insurgents killed. At the time, it was the largest NATO operation in history.
Speaking in India at a conference called "Conflict Prevention and Peacekeeping in a Changing World," Sajjan suggested he was the brains of the operation.
"On my first deployment to Kandahar in 2006, I was kind of thrown into an unforeseen situation and I became the architect of an operation called Operation Medusa where we removed over, about, 1,500 Taliban fighters off the battlefield. And I was very proud to be on the main assault of that force," Sajjan told the audience.
Sajjan commanded troops during the mission. But he was not the commander of Operation Medusa, nor was he the chief architect.
Brig.-Gen. David Fraser was the Canadian Forces general who commanded the NATO forces in the region.
In a statement to CTV News Friday, Sajjan gave Brig.-Gen. Fraser credit for his leadership on the mission. However, the statement does not explicitly point out that Sajjan was not the “architect” of the operation.
“Operation Medusa was successful because of leadership of General Fraser and the extraordinary team with whom I had the honour of serving,” Sajjan said.
“My comments were in no way intended to diminish the role that my fellow soldiers and my superiors played in Operation Medusa.
“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. I regret that I didn’t say this then, but I want to do so now.”
Sajjan added that he was “proud to have served with extraordinary Canadian, American, and Afghan soldiers who made Operation Medusa successful.”
The statement also points out that the minister received a special military honour called a “mention in dispatches” for his “outstanding professionalism” during the Afghanistan mission.
In a statement posted to his Facebook page on Saturday, Sajjan went further, saying that he was “truly sorry” for his remarks about Operation Medusa.
“I made a mistake in describing my role,” Sajjan wrote. “I wish to retract that description and apologize for it. I am truly sorry.”
It’s not the first time the defence minister made the claim. In an interview from 2015 before he took office, Sajjan referred to himself as “the architect” of the operation and attributed the praise to Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance.
"If I can quote him, he said I was the architect of Operation Medusa, one of the biggest operations since the Korean War that Canada has led. We took the fight hard to the Taliban," Sajjan says in the video.
Vance refused to comment on the matter Friday, saying he was “not really aware” of the issue. He later refused a reporter’s follow-up question on the subject.
Twelve Canadian soldiers and three Afghan National Army soldiers were killed in Operation Medusa.
Sajjan was a reserve officer at the time of the operation. In total, he served three deployments to Afghanistan as a reservist and one tour in Bosnia.
Sajjan’s comments have come under sharp criticism. Conservative MP James Bezan suggested that there is a trust issue.
"Right now, the military don't trust him. Canadians cant' believe him. And the minister has to start telling the truth,” Bezan told CTV News.
Online, the hashtag #SajjanBattles joked that the minister fought in historic battles, such as D-Day in the Second World War.
With files from CTV’s Mercedes Stephenson