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Monday, May 1, 2017

Sajjan facing criticism over Operation Medusa comments

By: Gloria Galloway, The Globe and Mail 

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has apologized for embellishing the role he played in a significant and deadly battle in Afghanistan, but opposition MPs say the mea culpa was insufficient and that Mr. Sajjan's fabrication has punched holes in his credibility.

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A Canadian LAV-III during the 2006 Canadian-led Operation MEDUSA, in Afghanistan
The Conservatives say they will be demanding a more heartfelt acknowledgment by Mr. Sajjan of his misrepresentation and suggest the Minister's statements are part of a larger pattern of untruthfulness.

The New Democrats, meanwhile, say they will be asking whether Mr. Sajjan's description of himself as being pivotal to the battle known as Operation Medusa means he diminished the importance of his role in Afghanistan when Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson briefly examined whether he had a personal interest in scuttling a public inquiry into the treatment of Afghan detainees.

"He has said he was involved in combat and planned combat missions, he has said he was an intelligence officer, and he apparently told the Conflict of Interest Commissioner he was just there doing police capacity building. So we have three different stories," Randall Garrison, the NDP defence critic, said Sunday.

Mr. Sajjan said during a speech in India in April that he was the "architect" of Operation Medusa, a land battle between NATO and 1,400 Taliban that took place over two weeks in the late summer of 2006. Roughly 550 insurgents and 12 Canadians were killed along with a number of others.

The Minister, who was an intelligence officer in the Canadian reserves, has been praised by senior military officers for his role in that combat. But he conceded on Saturday, after two days of criticism and an ambiguous statement on Friday, that he had "made a mistake" in describing himself as the operation's key planner.

"I wish to retract that description and apologize for it," Mr. Sajjan said Saturday in a post on Facebook. "What I should have said is that our military successes are the result of leadership, service and sacrifice of the many dedicated women and men of the Canadian Forces."

The India speech was not, however, the first time that Mr. Sajjan has talked about his part in Operation Medusa in that fashion. In July, 2015, when he was a Liberal candidate, he said on a British Columbia podcast called Conversations That Matterthat General Jonathan Vance, the Chief of the Defence Staff, "said I was the architect of Operation Medusa."

The Conservatives also point out that Mr. Sajjan told reporters in December that the issue of Canada withdrawing its CF-18 jets from the fight against the Islamic State was not raised during his meetings with Iraqi ministers in Baghdad – an assertion that was later debunked in a summary by Global Affairs that said the Iraqis had asked Mr. Sajjan to "reconsider the decision on numerous occasions."

The Minister's Facebook climb down for claiming to be the architect of Operation Medusa is not enough, James Bezan, the Conservative defence critic said in a telephone interview on Sunday.

"I expect him to offer a full, sincere apology in the House of Commons at his earliest possible convenience," said Mr. Bezan. "I also think that this is a disturbing pattern of embellishing stories and misrepresenting the facts and making up alternative facts, and that this pattern is something that all of us need to critique even more."

While he did not call for Mr. Sajjan's resignation, Mr. Bezan said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will have to decide if the Minister still has his confidence.

For his part, Mr. Garrison said Mr. Sajjan's claim to have been the architect of Operation Medusa "does raise questions about both the confidence of the Canadian military in our minister and also of our NATO allies."

In March, Ms. Dawson dismissed concerns brought to her by Craig Scott, a former New Democrat MP, that Mr. Sajjan may have contravened the Conflict of Interest Act when he announced in June, 2016, that the government would not conduct an inquiry into the treatment of Afghans who had been captured by Canadian troops and turned over to Afghan security forces.