B.C. reservist’s ability to build ‘genuine rapport’ earned Afghans’ trust

Published: May 8, 2014
Canada-British Columbia-India

Lieutenant-Colonel Harjit S. Sajjan

JOHN COLEBOURN
VANCOUVER DESI

Name: Harjit Sajjan, 43

Rank: Lieutenant-Colonel

Hometown: Vancouver

Afghanistan Dates: Three deployments: 2006-2011

On his first deployment to Afghanistan as a Canadian military reservist in 2006, Harjit 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.

Sajjan, 43, began his military reserve service in the Bosnian conflict and went on to proudly serve on three missions to Afghanistan. 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 Sajjan 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” (Sept. 2-17, 2006).

Leading up to Operation Medusa, Sajjan 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 Sajjan.

Once they began the critical task of communicating with the villagers, Sajjan 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 Sajjan. “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.”

BC Armed Forces-Vancouver-Sikh

Lieutenant-Colonel Harjit S. Sajjan

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 Sajjan. “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, Sajjan 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 Sajjan.

“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, Sajjan 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.

Sajjan moved from the police force to a military position in 2010. He is now a Lieutenant-Colonel serving as commanding officer of the British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own). Sajjan is the first Canadian Sikh soldier to take commmand of the B.C. 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.”


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,





Featured

A Bangladeshi policeman escorts Jikrullah, left and Ariful Islam, two among  three suspected of the killing of a blogger as they are presented before the media in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, March 30, 2015. AP Photo/ A.M. Ahad

Blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh’s capital, 2 Islamic school students detained

JULHAS ALAM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS DHAKA, Bangladesh — A blogger was hacked to death by three men in Bangladesh’s capital on Monday, and two of…
Continue Reading »

In this photo taken in October 2012, Associated Press reporter Kathy Gannon, second from left, and photographer Anja Niedringhaus pose for a photo with Afghan police recruits at the main police training academy in Kabul, Afghanistan. AP Photo

Afghan police officer sentenced to 20 years for killing AP photographer and wounding reporter

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS KABUL — Afghanistan’s highest court has ruled that the police officer convicted of murdering Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus and wounding AP…
Continue Reading »

desi-crime-sexual assault

Surrey man who pleaded guilty to mistreating sex trade workers should go to prison for 2-3 years: Crown

KEITH FRASER VANCOUVER DESI SURREY — A Surrey man who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 14-year-old sex trade worker nearly 20 years ago and…
Continue Reading »

LOCAL NEWS

U.S., Mexico sign climate co-operation deal as Canada stalls on UN emissions bid

By Bruce Cheadle THE CANADIAN PRESS OTTAWA — The Harper government is temporarily standing on the sidelines as international negotiations ramp up for a United…
Continue Reading »

US-Mexico sign climate co-operation deal as Canada stalls on UN emissions bid

By Bruce Cheadle THE CANADIAN PRESS OTTAWA — The Harper government is temporarily standing on the sidelines as international negotiations ramp up for a United…
Continue Reading »

desi-crime-sexual assault

Surrey man who pleaded guilty to mistreating sex trade workers should go to prison for 2-3 years: Crown

KEITH FRASER VANCOUVER DESI SURREY — A Surrey man who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 14-year-old sex trade worker nearly 20 years ago and…
Continue Reading »

Don't Miss...

World Cup final

Underarm incident recalled as Australia-New Zealand rivalry rekindles in World Cup final

STEVE MCMORRAN THE ASSOCIATED PRESS MELBOURNE, Australia — Relations between New Zealand and Australia at a political level have regained their natural cordiality in the…
Continue Reading »

Cricket World Cup

Clarke’s Australians prepare to take on unpopular role in the World Cup final vs New Zealand

JOHN PYE THE ASSOCIATED PRESS MELBOURNE, Australia — Win or lose, Michael Clarke and his Australian teammates are probably going to be portrayed as the…
Continue Reading »

India-Australia-weird news

Youth cut his tongue as sacrifice at an Indian temple for nation’s cricket victory

IANS Chennai – In a senseless act, a cricket crazy youth in Tamil Nadu offered the tip of his tongue as a sacrifice at a…
Continue Reading »

Freedom-Section 66A-India

Teenager shoots himself after father bans Facebook chat

IANS Lucknow - A 14-year-old boy shot himself Thursday after his father reprimanded him for chatting too often on social networking site Facebook, police said. The…
Continue Reading »

messy custody battle-desi lingerie model

Jeremy Renner’s messy divorce from B.C. model gets messier as custody battle rages

VANCOUVER DESI A B.C. woman who was married to Hollywood actor Jeremy Renner is being accused of being a gold digger and blackmailer who has…
Continue Reading »


Bollywood Latest

pakistani sex meera-Veena Malik

Gallery: Bollywood celebs in trouble with the law

ALMAS MEHERALLY VANCOUVER DESI Indian film actress Shruti Haasan has run into legal trouble after she pulled out of a signed contract, according to an…
Continue Reading »

Salman Khan-Bollywood

Bollywood actor Salman Khan denies he was driving or drunk during 2002 accident

IANS Mumbai – Bollywood actor Salman Khan on Friday told a Mumbai court, conducting the trial of the 2002 hit-and-run case involving him, that he…
Continue Reading »

Bollywood movie

Amitabh Bachchan: Balki challenges me with never-done-before roles

SUBHASH K. JHA IANS Mumbai – R. Balakrishnan and Amitabh Bachchan’s much anticipated third outing “Shamitabh” turned out to be a box office disaster, but…
Continue Reading »