You might think Harjit Sajjan takes a pretty mean combat gear photo, but Canada’s new Minister of National Defence is some kind of next-level Spy vs Spy war hero.
A 2006 letter of appreciation for Sajjan’s services from the commander of Canada’s Coalition Task Force in Afghanistan has surfaced, and it reads like a Bourne Trilogy movie script.
Sajjan was considered “the best single Canadian intelligence asset in [war] theater” whose “hard work, personal bravery and dogged determination undoubtedly saved a multitude of Coalition lives,” according to the letter, recently obtained by National Observer.
He’s further credited with providing the intelligence foundation for a military operation resulting in the “kill or capture” of 1,500 Taliban fighters.
Addressed to then-Vancouver police chief Jamie Graham, the letter from Brigadier General David Fraser thanked the chief for the loan of Detective Constable Sajjan, then a reserve officer with the Canadian Armed Forces.
It includes the following excerpts:
“Not only did [Sajjan] display a rare high level of intellect and experience in his analysis, he also demonstrated remarkable personal courage… often working in the face of the enemy to collect data and confirm his suspicions, and placing himself almost daily in situations of grave personal risk.”
“[He] demonstrated a profound understanding of the Taliban and tribal networks…””He was the best single Canadian intelligence asset in theater, and his hard work, personal bravery and dogged determination undoubtedly saved a multitude of Coalition lives.”
“Through his courage and dedication, Major Sajjan has single-handedly changed the face of intelligence gathering and analysis in Afghanistan.”
“[H]is analysis was so compelling that it drove a number of large scale theatre-resourced efforts, including OPERATION MEDUSA… that resulted in the defeat of the largest TB cell yet identified in Afghanistan, with over 1500 Taliban killed or captured.”
“I rate him as one of the best intelligence officers I have ever worked with.””I have advised my chain of command that the Canadian Forces must capture his skill-set, and seek his advice on how to change our entire tactical intelligence training and architecture to best meet the needs of future deployed units fighting in extremely complex human battlespace.”
What set Sajjan’s anti-terrorism intelligence apart was his ability to connect and build trust with local populations, something he’s known to attribute in part to the Canadian military’s openness to turbans. His access granted him special appreciation of the unique dynamics and local conditions on the ground in Afghanistan.
Sajjan’s intelligence-gathering and analytic skills soon attracted the attention of senior U.S. military and strategic advisors. His opinion letter concerning the Taliban, local warlords and the Afghan opium trade was appended in full in a major 2008 report on U.S. anti-narcotic strategies by Barnet Rubin, senior advisor to the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. In both 2006 and 2009 Sajjan came under enemy fire, saw open combat and coped with dead and wounded soldiers.
Following Sajjan’s second deployment in 2009, U.S. Major-General James Terry, Commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan’s southern provinces, requested that he join the U.S. Command Team for a third deployment 2010, where he served as Special Assistant to General Terry. Pictured below, Sajjan presented General Terry with a Sikh ceremonial kirpan.
Among the many honours bestowed on Sajjan is the Order of Military Merit, awarded in 2014.
Reached for comment late Wednesday evening, the new minister emphasized that the national defence portfolio is a team effort.
“When you’re the government or minister,” he said, “you don’t work alone. We have a tremendous civil service and military who are exceptionally capable. In National Defence, we work as a team.”
Nor did Sajjan want to talk about individual heroics. Instead, he voiced concern for Canadians now serving in the military.
“It’s the responsibility of government not to put soldiers into harm’s way except as a last resort, when it’s absolutely necessary to do so,” he said. “When we do send them into harm’s way we have to ensure that we’ve done everything in our power to find other methods to reach our objectives.”
Very properly, little was made of Sajjan’s military achievements during the election campaign. His own personal style, like that of all good intelligence officers, is decidedly low-key.
But you can only hide badass for so long.
Make no mistake, Minister Sajjan’s reputation for stellar military intelligence precedes him among Canada’s serving men and women, its military leadership, and the strategic planning of our allies, especially in the global fight against terrorism.