Canadian Defense Minister Wanted Credit For A Fiasco: Analysts

David Krayden Ottawa Bureau Chief
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Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan was falsely claiming credit for a military fiasco, say some defense analysts in the U.S. and Canada, the National Post reports.

Sajjan is being pummeled every day in the Canadian Parliament because he claimed to be the chief architect of Operation Medusa, a Canadian-led offensive against the Taliban in 2006 that many see as that country’s greatest victory in the decade-long war in Afghanistan.

The Conservative opposition defense critic has called Sajjan a “laughingstock” for claiming he just made a “mistake” when he congratulated himself on the operation’s success. James Bezan told the Daily Caller, “Minister Sajjan has lost the trust of our military, our veterans are outraged and Canadians don’t believe him. If Sajjan, has any sense of honour left as a veteran, he should do the honourable thing and resign.”

But some are suggesting his desire to identify himself with the battle might make him a laughingstock.

A U.S. military investigation that interviewed the key players in the battle came to the conclusion that Operation Medusa was no cause for celebration but was a tactical victory for the Taliban and defeat for the coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Retired Canadian Maj.-Gen. Charles Sullivan is cited in that investigation and he told Postmedia on Tuesday that he was mystified why Canada’s defense minister would want to be known as a the architect of a structure that couldn’t sustain itself.

“[Medusa] showed how ill-prepared the Canadian Army was, as well as all the deficiencies that existed as it went into an operation it could not execute,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan was a a team leader in the investigation that examined how Canadian soldiers were victims of friendly fire from U.S. aircraft during Op Medusa. The subsequent report is still partially classified, but much of the public material deals with the planning of the battle. It makes for unsettling reading as it describes a Canadian military that was overconfident of victory but incredibly courageous in the face of Taliban terrorists estimated to be from 3,000 to 5,000 in number.

The soldiers interviewed for the report were brutally honest about how weak planning and poor execution made Medusa highly problematic. Three days of airstrikes to weaken Taliban positions were canceled without explanation. Orders were ignored or reversed in the middle of battle.

At one point, 50 Canadian soldiers walked right into a Taliban trap; they reacted bravely — with six winning bravery medals — but casualties were high. It was after that fiasco that U.S. fighters fired upon the Canadian position, thinking them Taliban.

Fifty Canadian soldiers advanced as ordered. The insurgents were waiting, hidden in trenches and fortified buildings. Four Canadians were killed, 10 wounded and at least six became stress casualties. Six soldiers received medals for their bravery that day.

Shortly after, a U.S. aircraft strafed Canadian troops in a friendly fire incident, killing one and wounding 36.

Sullivan, who would retire from the Royal Canadian Air Force as a NATO’s deputy chief of joint operations, would write in a U.S. Air Force history of the Afghan air war: “Sadly, less than 24 hours after being initiated, the strike phase of Operation Medusa was over with a total of five soldiers killed, almost 50 wounded, vehicles destroyed, and a clear tactical victory for the regional Taliban commander and insurgent forces.”

Despite being beset with problems that could be likened to First World War myopia, Medusa was hailed a triumph by journalists and some NATO senior officers who wanted to present a good face to the public.

Sullivan also doubts the claims that NATO forces inflicted huge casualties on the Taliban, suggesting most just retreated, only to return with better and more lethal guerrilla tactics.

The report’s conclusions can be found in other sources.

U.S. officer Gary Bowman told the New York Times that “the real story of Medusa is the utter intelligence failure — it is the best example that the coalition did not understand the residual Taliban influence in the south.”

If true, that does not bode well for Canada’s defense minister, who was an army intelligence officer during the battle.

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