Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has expressed regret for taking credit for leading a major land battle to root out the Taliban in Afghanistan more than a decade ago.
In an April 18 speech to a conference called "Conflict Prevention and Peacekeeping in a Changing World" in New Delhi, Sajjan spoke about his role in the pivotal 2006 Operation Medusa.
Sajjan told the conference he was "no stranger to conflict," and said he was decorated by both Canada and the U.S. militaries for his service fighting terrorism and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
"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," he said, adding that he was recognized for his efforts.
His remarks were first reported in the National Post.
In a statement provided to CBC today, Sajjan said whenever he speaks about his time in uniform he makes an effort to give credit to those with whom he served.
"Every military operation our Forces undertook in Afghanistan, including Operation Medusa, relied on the courage and dedication of many individuals across the Canadian Forces," he said. "My comments were in no way intended to diminish the role that my fellow soldiers and my superiors played in Operation Medusa.
'Regret' for remarks
"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 went on to say that Operation Medusa was successful because of the leadership of "Gen. Fraser and the extraordinary team with whom I had the honour of serving."
Brig.-Gen. David Fraser was the Canadian Forces general who commanded the NATO forces in southern Afghanistan at the time.
Sajjan worked for 11 years in Vancouver Police Department's gang crime unit and served one tour in Bosnia and three deployments to Afghanistan as a reservist.
In a past letter to Vancouver police, Fraser praised Sajjan as "the best single Canadian intelligence asset in theatre," and said his bravery, hard work and determination saved coalition lives.
"Through his courage and dedication, [then] Major Sajjan has single-handedly changed the face of intelligence gathering and analysis in Afghanistan," he wrote.
Sajjan has received several military honours, including the Meritorious Service Medal in 2013 for reducing the Taliban's influence in Kandahar and a Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal.
Trying to 'reinvent history'
Conservative defence critic James Bezan said Sajjan's words were more than a "faux pas."
"He didn't misspeak. This is him trying to reinvent history and unfortunately he has a habit of misleading Canadians," he said. "If he's not trusted by the military, if Canadians can't believe him, then he shouldn't be in cabinet."
Bezan recalled that despite claims from Sajjan, the Iraqis didn't happily accept Canada's withdrawal of CF-18 jet fighters from combat against the Islamic State. He said the minister also made misleading statements about the air force's capability gap and who was responsible for cutting danger pay for soldiers in Kuwait.
Dave Perry, an analyst with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute said his remarks at the conference raised eyebrows.
Comments were 'surprising'
"They were pretty surprising, because that operation is well documented, and his role has never been characterized in that way, although it is well recognized that the Minister of National Defence served with distinction and was an excellent intelligence officer," he told CBC.
Operation Medusa took place between Aug. 26-Sept. 17 2006, and according to the defence department's website was, at the time, "the most significant land battle ever undertaken by NATO."
Designed to root out Taliban forces operating in Panjwa'i and Zhari districts of Kandahar Province, Operation Medusa was led by the 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group.
Over the course of three weeks, a combined force of Canadian, U.S. and Afghan troops fought an enemy force estimated at 1,400 strong.
About 550 insurgents were killed, according to the Department of National Defence. Twelve Canadian soldiers and three Afghan National Army soldiers were killed in action, and 10 Green Berets and six Afghan National Army soldiers were wounded.