Earlier this week, the federal defence minister falsely described himself as the architect of Operation Medusa in 2006. It is not the first time Sajjan has made the claim.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has formally apologized for embellishing his role in a key Afghan offensive even as evidence emerged that he had made the false claim before.
A beleaguered Sajjan took to social media on Saturday to issue a full mea culpa for his claim to an overseas audience that he was the “architect” of Operation Medusa, a 2006 offensive by Canadian forces to oust Taliban fighters from districts around Kandahar.
Sajjan said he had “made a mistake” in describing his role. “I wish to retract that description and apologize for it. I am truly sorry,” he said Saturday in a Twitter post that referred readers to a fuller explanation on his Facebook page.
“While I am proud of the role I played during my deployments to Afghanistan, my comments were in no way intended to diminish the roles of my former superiors and fellow soldiers. To them I offer my sincere apologies,” Sajjan said.
“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.”
It was not, however, the first time Sajjan had made the claim. In 2015 he told the B.C. program Conversations That Matter that Gen. Jonathan Vance, the current chief of defence staff who was previously a commander in Afghanistan, saw him as a key figure in the 2006 offensive.
“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. We took the fight hard to the Taliban,” Sajjan said in July 2015, just months before he was elected as a Vancouver MP.
Vance’s office was not available Saturday to respond to that claim.
Still, the apology is not likely to appease opposition critics who will be pressing Sajjan to provide a better explanation Monday when MPs return to Parliament.
“I think the damage is done, unfortunately. He never apologized until he got cornered on this. This is a lie he has told before,” Manitoba Conservative MP James Bezan told the Star in a telephone interview Saturday.
“He has to start telling the truth because right now the military doesn’t trust him, Canadians can’t believe him and he’s become a laughingstock,” said Bezan (Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman).
“How can our allies take him seriously?” he said.
Bezan said veterans and current members of the military see this as “very egregious, when someone tries to rewrite history.
“It goes completely against the ethos of the Canadian Armed Forces,” he said.
Bezan said the question of whether Sajjan should step down from the defence portfolio depends on how events unfold this week.
“That’s going to have to be a call for the prime minister to make. I know there are many suggesting he do the honourable thing and resign himself,” Bezan said.
A spokesperson for Justin Trudeau said Saturday that Sajjan continues to enjoy the confidence of the prime minister.
In his apology Saturday, Sajjan singled out retired major-general David Fraser, who commanded the mission in southern Afghanistan. Sajjan said Operation Medusa was successful because of Fraser’s leadership and “the extraordinary team with whom I had the honour of serving.”
Sajjan said in his statement that the incident was “another reminder to own your mistakes.”
Yet the apology came only after days of criticism — and social media ridicule — and an initial statement that in the eyes of some fell short of truly admitting he had not been accurate in explaining his role.
At the time of Operation Medusa, Sajjan was a major, serving as an intelligence officer. And while the intelligence he gathered is credited with shaping the Canadian plan, others who served in Afghanistan have been quick to debunk his claim to be its architect.
The remarks that drew the backlash were made to an audience in New Delhi earlier this month.
Faced with questions about his claim, Sajjan initially said every operation in Afghanistan, including Medusa, “relied on the courage and dedication of many individuals across the Canadian Forces.
“My comments were in no way intended to diminish the role that my fellow soldiers and my superiors played in Operation Medusa,” Sajjan said last week.
But he didn’t apologize then, or retract his claim, as he did Saturday.