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Above: Lt Col Harjit Singh Sajjan takes command of The British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own).

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He Was Our Eyes & Ears in Afghanistan:
Lt Col Harjit Singh Sajjan





On his first deployment to Afghanistan as a Canadian military reservist in 2006, Harjit Singh Sajjan relied on the skills he learned as a gang squad member while he was with the Vancouver Police Department.

But there were days where no amount of training would prepare him for the physical and mental challenges of being a front-line soldier involved in the critical intelligence-gathering part of the Canadian mission in the dangerous Taliban-controlled Panjwayi District, located about 35 kilometres west of Kandahar City.

Harjit Singh, 43, began his military reserve service in the Bosnian conflict and went on to proudly serve on three missions to Afghanistan -- between 2006 and 2011.

His third deployment to Afghanistan was with the famed American 10th Mountain Division as a special adviser to U.S. General James Terry.

The highly-decorated general picked Harjit Singh for his information-gathering intelligence efforts with the villagers in the Kandahar region that was key to the success of the Canadian-led “Operation Medusa” (September 2-17, 2006).

Leading up to Operation Medusa, Harjit recalls how the Canadians were shocked through their day-to-day interactions with the locals about how many armed Taliban were holed up all around them in the Panjwayi District.

“There were clues popping up all over the place,” he said of evidence they were gathering that showed the Taliban was operating, and more importantly, recruiting in of the rugged, inhospitable area. “We figured out the Taliban were building a base in our backyard in Kandahar City, “ said Harjit.

Once they began the critical task of communicating with the villagers, Harjit said they were able to determine that 1,500 Taliban were keeping a low-profile presence in the region.

“I knew from my experience as a police officer that if you focus on building a genuine rapport, the people who eventually trust you will supply the information,“ said Harjit. “Some of us owe our lives to the Afghans who helped us. I lost count of how many times we would be told there was an ambush set up.”

And while the aim was to peacefully find out key information, there was always the risk of confrontation.

“We did a lot of fighting, we had to,” recalls Harjit. “But as we were fighting, we were turning off the tap -- we were fighting corruption on their behalf,” he said.

“Very few people had better intelligence on the Taliban than we did.”

As well, Harjit said the inroads they were making helped slow down the new recruits the Taliban were hoping to bring into their ranks.

One of the toughest parts of the Afghan service work was the heat, admits Harjit.

“The only way I can describe it, is to put yourself in an oven.”

Another constant stress was the missiles flying through the air, especially at night. “You would be sleeping and the rockets would come,” he said. “You would hear the whistle and roll out of bed before the explosion.”

Like other soldiers who saw unspeakable things during their duty, Harjit admits it can be tough when you get home.

He keeps in touch with many of the people he served with and thinks it is gratifying to know that on Friday, Canada is taking time to recognize their efforts.

He feels it is important Canadians recognize the sacrifices soldiers have made in not just Afghanistan -- but all wars.

“Remembrance Day or this service for the Afghan vets, it is the best way to honour us,” he said. “It means to me that you don’t take for granted what we have in Canada.”

“Canadians have a lot to be proud of with their soldiers,” he said.

Harjit Singh moved from the police force to a military position in 2010. He is now a Lieutenant-Colonel serving as the Commanding Officer of the British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own). He is the first Sikh-Canadian soldier to take command of a British Columbia Regiment.

“The work I did back here helped,” he said of his early policing career in Vancouver. “We wanted to communicate with the locals, help out, and once we built up that rapport it was the people who let us know what was going on. I knew from my experience as a police officer that if you focus on building up a genuine rapport, the people who trust you will supply the information.

“Sometimes, simple gestures go a long way.”

[Courtesy: The Province. Edited for]
May 9, 2014

Conversation about this article

1: Sandeep Singh Brar (Canada), May 09, 2014, 12:06 PM.

I have known Harjit for many years and have had the privilege of having him attend the Annual Sikh Remembrance Day Ceremony at Private Buckam Singh's grave. Not only is Harjit an outstanding soldier and an outstanding Canadian, but he is also an outstanding role model for youth. He is intelligent, humble, respectful and the consummate professional. What a great soldier and what a great Sikh!

2: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), May 09, 2014, 7:37 PM.

This is in keeping with the extraordinary martial spirit given to us through Guru Gobind Singh and the Khalsa Movement since Vaisakhi 1699 ... Sikh Soldiers are descended from the first Khalsa Saint-Warriors and the extraordinary irony here is that Sikhs went to Afghanistan over 175 years ago and defeated the same enemy Lt Col Harjit Singh went to fight! Well done! There should be Sikh Regiments in the army of every civilized country.

3: Kaala Singh (Punjab), May 10, 2014, 4:26 AM.

Lt Col Harjit Singh exemplifies the true spirit of Sikhi. Sikhs must follow his footsteps and serve in every country we make our home. Sikhs must serve Canada in greater numbers, a civilized country which respects and recognizes the Sikhs unlike their so called "homeland" for whom the Sikhs did so much and got nothing but death and destruction in return. These shameless and ungrateful people jere in India did not even think for a moment before they attacked our places of worship and carried out a genocide. Here it's worth recalling an incident from 1984, when a train carrying a group of Sikh soldiers returning from Siachen, the highest battlefield on earth, was stopped in Delhi by a mob and were massacred while their colleagues watched! Contrast this with the love and respect Harjit is getting and draw your own conclusions. Sikhs should not get fooled anymore if they don't want to see another genocide.

4: Kaala Singh (Punjab), May 11, 2014, 7:13 AM.

Sikhs should never abandon their military traditions. Our faith requires us to be righteous soldiers. We as a nation must nurture and develop our knowledge of warfare and military capabilities. Those who do not agree need to look back only 30 years. Had it not been for the fightback that started in 1986 and continued for a decade, following the massacres of 1984, we would have been wiped out as Balram Jakhar, a Congress politician once threatened. It was only due to this fightback that the Indian state was forced to abandon its policy of exterminating Sikhs and come to the negotiating table. If all these years have been quiet and incident free, it doesn't mean that their hearts and minds have changed, it's only because they know that Sikhs can fight back if attacked. Deterrence is the key to survival. We must maintain our majority and strength in this piece of land that we call our homeland.

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Lt Col Harjit Singh Sajjan"

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