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Operation Medusa: The Battle For Panjwai

Bravo clears a compound [PHOTO: GRAEME SMITH]

Bravo clears a compound

Part 3: The Fall of Objective Rugby.

Whatever the new rotation of Canadian soldiers were expecting to find when they rotated into Kandahar in August 2006, it wasn’t this.

They had trained for counter-insurgency warfare, but what they found was a lot closer to conventional war.

What they found was the battle of Panjwai. It was force-on-force battle against an enemy that employed a classic Soviet tactical defence. It was 16 weeks of pitched battles, air strikes and bloodshed.

The Canadians didn’t choose to fight Medusa, not exactly. It was more like they had no choice. Enemy troops were massing; and they were threatening everything. They had to be stopped.

So, the battle was on.

Between Aug. 3 and Oct. 14, 2006–from the first major fight at the white school in Pashmul to the last big attack during Operation Medusa’s reconstruction phase–19 Canadian soldiers died in the battle of Panjwai and many dozens more were injured.

One statistic really tells the tale: of the 19 soldiers killed during this period, 11 died as a result of direct enemy fire. In the six years Canada’s been in Afghanistan, only two other soldiers have ever been killed by direct enemy fire.

Panjwai district, southwest of Kandahar city, is where the Taliban movement began at a little mosque in a village called Sangisar. The district itself is somewhat larger than the Medusa battlefield, which was focused on a series of Taliban defensive positions in and around the village of Pashmul, which became known as Objective Rugby.

The pocket was bordered to the north by Highway 1, the busy main road between Kandahar and Kabul. To the south and east the Arghandab River formed a solid geographical boundary, while to the west there was an endless warren of villages and rough terrain stretching into neighbouring Helmand province.

In this third and final part of Legion Magazine’s series on Op Medusa, the Canadian battle group, splintered by the loss of Charles Company, regroups and executes a methodical, phased attack from the north led by Major Geoff Abthorpe’s Bravo Company, of the 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment.

Meanwhile, in the south, Maj. Andrew Lussier’s ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, Reconnaissance) squadron–a nearly company-sized unit largely comprised of Royal Canadian Dragoons–took the remnants of Charles Company and reformed into Task Force Grizzly under the command of call sign Grizzly Six, an American colonel named Steve Williams who was now in charge of holding the southern battle line and disrupting enemy forces across the Arghandab River.

Bolstering the RCR forces in the north was Alpha Company of 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, led by Maj. Charles Wright. In addition, Task Force 31, comprised mainly of U.S. Special Forces, was roving around the southern area of the battlefield while Task Force Mohawk, a company of American soldiers largely drawn from the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, were also involved in the fighting. Backing up the whole brigade were the big 155-mm guns of 2 Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, led by Maj. Greg Ivey.

Leading the Canadian battle group in the field was Lieutenant-Colonel Omer Lavoie, the RCR battalion commander. Back at Kandahar airfield, Brigadier-General David Fraser was the brigade commander, issuing orders to Lavoie while simultaneously commanding the NATO operations in southern Afghanistan.

In the classic military sense, failure was not an option here. Lieutenant-General Michel Gauthier, the commander of Canadian Expeditionary Forces Command, was in a good position to see the high-level strategic pressure pushing the Canadian’s into action. “NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) assumed responsibilities for operations in the south of Afghanistan in (early) August,” explained Gauthier. “And so in the south of Afghanistan–and this is in the context of Afghan perceptions of the coalition and whether or not they are there to help, and Taliban and insurgent perception of the coalition–we have this new command responsible for the south of Afghanistan.

“So you have this dynamic where clearly the Taliban are showing an intent to test ISAF. And this is all about credibility of ISAF in relation to Afghanistan and the Afghan government and so I would say there were all sorts of pressures on ISAF to demonstrate to the people of Afghanistan that ISAF and NATO were committed to Afghanistan and were committed to protecting the people of Afghanistan. And that’s not propaganda, that’s real. I mean, this was reality at a strategic level in the south of Afghanistan.

“There was very real pressure, real present danger from this Taliban force which was adopting a conventional posture in Panjwai and clearly demonstrating an intent to cut off Kandahar city and cut off Highway 1. None of which boded well, obviously, for the future of the south of Afghanistan. So, something had to be done in a couple of different respects both to gain the trust of the Afghan people, start to win their confidence, and to get those bad guys out of there so that the threat was removed.”

Op Medusa was going to end the threat and bring peace and stability to Panjwai. It was going to be the first Canadian-led brigade in no-holds-barred mechanized ground combat since World War II, and it was about to get off to a very bad start.

It was Saturday, Sept. 2, the first day of combat operations and Maj. Matthew Sprague’s Charles Company had just roared up on their initial objectives–Masum Ghar and Mar Ghar–unopposed and begun hammering the Taliban across the Arghandab.

In the north, Abthorpe’s company was already in position south of Highway 1 and beginning to trade fire with enemy forces there.

This operation was not a surprise. The enemy knew the Canadians were coming. It was part of the plan to give everybody in the area fair warning, to get all the civilians out of the way.

With Sprague and Abthorpe having seized their first-day objectives, according to the plan, they would begin a period of observation and intelligence collection and commence a 72-hour preparatory bombardment of enemy forces in the pocket before putting in the ground attack.

In support of this, NATO allies had stacked the air space around Panjwai with all sorts of air assets–fighters, bombers, attack helicopters, unmanned drones and even spy planes.

Down on the ground, just south of Masum Ghar, Lussier and his ISTAR squadron were about to witness something horrible. “Sir, take a look at this,” yelled one of Lussier’s men, as soldiers started looking at the sky, not believing what they were seeing.

Lussier came out of his LAV, looked up, and saw a big four-engine British Nimrod MR2 spy plane arcing across the sky, engulfed in bright orange flames and going down fast.

Lussier, alongside his men, stood and watched as the plane hit the ground and exploded just a few kilometres away.

Once it was down, the race was on to get to the crash site. Lussier sent his reconnaissance platoon off without hesitation. Any survivors might need help and it was imperative not to let them, or the crash scene, fall into enemy hands.

But nothing is simple in Afghanistan, and navigating the small roads and villages in order to get to the crash scene proved difficult. Fortunately, an American Apache attack helicopter appeared overhead and guided Lussier’s force in the right direction.

Arriving on the scene, it was obvious no one had survived.

There were 14 men aboard the Nimrod when it crashed. It was the worst single-incident loss of British military life since the Falklands War in 1982. The plane was reportedly brought down by an electrical fire.

As soon as the Canadians secured the site, an American rescue squad landed and together they started the grisly task. The plane had exploded and disintegrated on impact and the wreckage was strewn widely about. “We swept the scene for human remains as well as any sensitive materials,” said Lussier. “It was carnage and it was gruesome work. I think the biggest piece of human remains was maybe a little bit bigger than a soccer ball. There was all kinds of crap all over the place. It was a toxic jungle.

“I tell you, it was a strange case of irony here. Medusa hadn’t really started, everybody was just posturing, and we were the first ones to see all this blood and gore and crap. And so, you know, my guys are kind of in shock.”

As the night dragged on, Lussier and his squadron stayed at the crash scene, beginning work again early the next morning, Sept. 3. “So morale was low, of course, and the guys were feeling sorry for themselves. Then Charles Company goes across the river and they get smoked and we hear there are four guys dead and guys wounded and everything like that.

“It was quite an experience. I’m listening to the battle on the radio as I was walking the debris field. We were close enough we could hear the shooting and explosions and everything. We could see the aircraft coming in and out, helping out. Listening to this thing on the radio was gut wrenching. You just wanted to get the hell over there and help them out.

“I’ll tell you, at that point my guys stopped feeling sorry for themselves. It was like, ‘what the hell do we have to feel sorry about?'”

What Lussier was listening to were the sounds of Charles Company running head first into a huge and very well prepared enemy force on Objective Rugby.

Medusa was not going to be derailed so easily, but at mid-afternoon on Sept. 3rd the situation was not looking so good. The first ground attack had failed and 18 coalition soldiers were dead. And there was more bad luck ahead.

A few kilometres north of Rugby, Abthorpe’s company was spread out in a thin line south of the highway.

By the time Charles Company went across, Bravo Company had already been in position for a few days. “We were given a very simple task,” said Abthorpe. “We were to give a feint south of the highway to distract the enemy. Everybody knew the battle group’s focus was going to be south, but by pushing across the highway from Patrol Base Wilson, it was hoped that we would establish a guard, protect the highway and our lines of communication, but also draw some of the Taliban attention from the south to the north.”

Bravo Company spread out along the edge of their first objective, dubbed Cracked Roof, which was a very deep ditch and road system that went through Pasab, a small village north of Pashmul.

Shortly after Bravo moved into position, they were attacked by two very ambitious insurgents who figured maybe they could take on an entire platoon of LAVs with nothing more than their AK-47 assault rifles. “It was the most surreal thing,” said Abthorpe. “The two Taliban stood up in the open on a mud wall and started shooting at the LAVs with AKs, nothing else.”

Having none of it, 5 platoon, led by Lieut. Jeff Bell, mounted a hasty attack on the compound from which the men were firing. They called in air burst artillery and rolled in, ending the resistance. Despite a detailed search, they only ever found one body.

“This stage (of Medusa),” said Captain Piers Pappin, leader of Bravo Company’s 4 Platoon, “I liken to the phony war almost, like back in World War II, just because we conducted our feint and we sat on this line for quite a number of days and didn’t see a lot of enemy activity. We knew they were there but there was no movement or anything. That was the phony Medusa.”

On the morning of Sept. 3, Bravo was still patrolling up and down Cracked Roof as Maj. Abthorpe came to terms with the new tactical situation in the wake of Charles Company’s surprise attack. “Now, the call for (the attack) came as a big surprise. Our orders, my orders, were to do the feint south of Highway 1. Charles Company would move up on Masum Ghar and the two of us, from either end, would observe patterns of life for at least 24 hours and then we’d start the 72-hour bombardment. I briefed on that fire plan. So, all of it seemed good.

“We rolled across on the 1st and 2nd and we engage the Taliban. We see the Taliban really are here, so we’re starting to build a picture. Then the night of the 2nd, I get the call saying ‘Standby. Charles Company is going across. Pass the word.’

“‘OK,’ I thought. ‘This is interesting.’

“They cross over. We know what happens. They redeploy back south across the river.

“So we go into holy f–k mode.”

Given the amount of resistance Charles Company faced on Rugby, Bravo’s soldiers assumed they would be going into a huge fight when they moved across Cracked Roof and onto their objective, dubbed Templar, directly north of Pashmul.

In the meantime, on the morning of Sept. 3rd, Lussier’s squadron had to come up north, to Patrol Base Wilson, just near where Bravo was deployed, to drop off one of their soldiers, Corporal Kelly Dove, whose husband, Warrant Officer Rick Nolan, had been killed that day.

Lussier was then ordered to join Bravo Company as it prepared to assault across Cracked Roof early the next morning.

“The next day we were set at the start line at first light, I think it was 5:30 a.m,” said Lussier, “and we were all along just south of Highway 1.”

The plan was for Bravo and ISTAR to charge across Cracked Roof to focus enemy attention northward. With orders for the attack hastily given, the soldiers were in their positions, getting ready for battle. “And that’s when we got the news: ‘Stop, stop, stop. Charles Company has just been f–king strafed,'” said Lussier.

On the morning of Sept. 4, Charles Company, which had been ordered to gear up and recross the Arghandab for a second attack on Rugby, was hit by an American A-10, killing Private Mark Graham and wounding more than 30 others, including Sprague, the commanding officer.

Everything came to a stop. Offensive operations were largely halted as the Canadian leadership figured out what to do next. Lussier’s ISTAR squadron moved out into a temporary position in the desert while Bravo held the northern battle line.

It was time for a serious reappraisal of the battle plan. Everyone held fast while the men at the top conferred. “Well, (Lavoie) and I talked a lot after that friendly fire incident,” said Fraser. “I actually called (Lavoie) into my headquarters, so we could determine when we were going to cross the river.

“We changed the plan because there was a significant event that day and I used it as an opportunity to make the Taliban believe that we were going to continue to cross the Arghandab as they thought we would. And then, instead, move the focus to the north, come from the north to the south in an area the Taliban didn’t think we would come from.

“That’s where Task Force Grizzly came into play. We took the remnants of Charles Company, gave them some snipers, gave them some people controlling direct fire and close air support, and I said to Colonel Williams, ‘I want you to make yourself look like a thousand-man organization, make the Taliban believe you are still Omer Lavoie.’

“And that’s what we did for the next three to four days, we kept squeezing the Taliban from three different directions, coming from the north, Task Force Grizzly from the south and Task Force 31 to the southeast. And we did that until we actually got onto Rugby.”

With the operation now focused firmly on Bravo Company, things started to happen up north. In one memorable event, soldiers caught a few Taliban leaders trying to ‘get out of Dodge.’

“A white sedan pulls up,” remembers Abthorpe, “and they’re trying to leave our security bubble. So we’re like ‘where’d you come from? Why are you leaving?’ So we’re talking to these three older guys and that’s when their cell phone rang. The interpreter (working for the Canadians) grabbed the phone and started talking. It was a senior Taliban commander yelling at these three guys, saying ‘why aren’t they attacking the Canadians. Because they had great success in the south, they should be attacking in the north.’ Well, these guys were trying to flee at that point.”

On Sept. 5, Bravo took their first casualties–four wounded–when a group of enemy fighters tried to flank their position and targeted one of their LAVs with rocket-propelled grenades and recoilless rifle.

Despite the enemy activity, Bravo soldiers were patrolling up and down Cracked Roof, the deep ditch, trying to get an understanding of the terrain and gather intel on enemy positions.

With all the forces in place, Bravo eventually put their breach in and got across the ditch and began heading south.

For the next few nights, the Reconnaissance Platoon would head out into the darkness, scouting the way ahead for the troops to push through the next day. It was a classic advance and Bravo cut south through the light resistance and onto objective, Templar. “The Taliban, from the time they chose to fight conventionally, mimicked, almost to the letter, Soviet-style tactics from the Cold War that many of us were trained on as young officers,” said Abthorpe.

“They had two-man observation posts, a very thin outer defensive line, but as we get into it, very very solid defensive positions on both Objective Rugby and (the other objectives). Very, very detailed, very well dug in. In hindsight it’s easy to analyze and go ‘textbook, absolutely textbook conventional tactics.'”

Meanwhile, down south, on Masum Ghar and Mar Ghar, Lussier and Task Force Grizzly were inflicting major damage on the trapped and surrounded Taliban.

“My orders were simple,” said Lussier. “Disrupt the enemy.

“The Taliban did us a big favour; essentially they had kicked all the civilians out so it was very much a linear battlefield at that point. So there were my lines and there was the Arghandab River which was essentially in no man’s land and then everybody on the other side was Taliban. It made life so much easier for us. Essentially we just shot and bombed the crap out of these guys for the better part of four or five days while the battle group made their way from the north.”

Lussier and his surveillance team spent a lot of time listening in on the Taliban as they spoke on the radio. “They had voice procedures on the radio just like we do and during that time you could tell that we were not letting these guys get any sleep whatsoever, they were getting no rest. We were bombing the crap out of them constantly. And you could tell after about the second or third day there were a lot of arguments on the radio, a lot of names being used and so we garnished a lot of intelligence from them just from what they were saying.

“For example, Ahmed is calling Haji on the radio and he says, ‘Hey are you going to supper?’ And the other replies, ‘No, the commander told me I can’t leave the white bridge.’

“So I look on my air surveillance photo and I say ‘hey, there’s the white bridge.’ So as I’m calling an artillery mission on it, he comes back on the radio and says ‘We’re just all meeting at the barn just behind you.’ So I blow the snot out of the white bridge and blow the snot out of the barn. And then we hear: ‘We have lots of casualties, send the trucks.’ So we wait and watch and see the trucks show up and blow the crap out of the trucks, too.

“There were 80 guys killed that day. We saw it. We watched it. So, this isn’t speculation here. So it’s all things like that: people making mistakes because they’re exhausted and stressed. We killed a lot of people, you know, we killed a lot of Taliban. And they’re just not set up to take a couple of hundred casualties. They’re not set up to evacuate them. They’re not set up to look after those kind of wounded. So they just fall apart. And so that was part of the disruption task.”

However, things weren’t entirely going to plan in the south. Colonel Williams, the American in command of Task Force Grizzly, had a uniquely aggressive approach to war fighting. Described variously as ‘ballsy,’ and ‘a cowboy,’ Williams was always out in front, leading the advance, but he had some difficulty convincing Lussier and the other Canadian officers that his run-and-gun approach was really the best idea.

The situation came to a head several times, but most notably in the second week of September, when Williams ordered Lussier and the remnants of Charles Company to cross the Arghandab and head into enemy territory with little preparation or intelligence. “Well the thing is that I was the senior Canadian there attached to him and he wanted to just go,” recalled Lussier. “He basically said ‘OK, let’s go. We’re going across the river right now.’

“And I told him ‘no.’ But that’s not an easy thing for a major to tell a full colonel, but I told him, ‘No,’ I said, ‘Listen, there’s some things we need to find out about this.’

“I wanted to send reconnaissance across the night before to check the bank at the other side, to make sure we could actually get the vehicles up and over, because what’s the use in trying to do an assault river crossing if you can’t get a toehold on the other side of the river?

“So I ended up winning the argument. I said ‘look we’re not going to go half-assed. We’ve tried that, we got f–king smoked.’ So I told him we’re going to send the reconnaissance patrol across. So we did, and then we shot across the next day.

“I just wasn’t prepared to put Charles in that position again. There was just no way. It just didn’t make any sense. The thing is, in the end, time doesn’t mean anything over there. If it doesn’t work today, we’ll go tomorrow. It’s not like they’re advancing on us. It’s not like they’re advancing on Ottawa.

“He pulled me aside afterward and he said, ‘Listen,’ he goes, ‘I’m sensing a little hesitation in you to act.’ And when I explained to him exactly what I was thinking, he was OK with that. But I mean I could have got my ass fired right then and there.”

In the end, Charles Company did go back across the Arghandab. This time, they didn’t use the same crossing, they went across farther to the east, near Mar Ghar, and they encountered little or no resistance.

Captain Derek Wessan, leader of Charles’ 7 Platoon, was attached to Task Force Grizzly and he was among the first soldiers onto Rugby proper in the coming days.

Wessan recalls a slightly chaotic scene as units were tasked to advance toward Rugby rapidly in a search for the enemy. “There was minimal information coming from Grizzly Six,” said Wessan. “He would just go, ‘Ah, push two kilometres that way.’ And every time, we’d achieve our limit of exploitation, and then we’d get the order, ‘go another kilometre.’ Essentially we were advancing to contact, without saying it I guess.

“We weren’t doing it as deliberate as I would have liked to have done it.

“So we keep pushing. We push again. And all of a sudden we’re in this field. We weren’t geographically f–cked up, we just didn’t know exactly where we were, and where we were was where Frank Mellish and Will Cushley got killed on Sept. 3rd.”

It was dark when Wessan arrived on Rugby. He climbed out of his LAV and saw the remains of the vehicles they’d left behind nearly two weeks before, now destroyed by coalition air strikes. “We were the first troops on that position since the 3rd,” Wessan noted, quietly.

Then, the next morning, they got the order to head north into the maze of compounds and tight defensive terrain in Pashmul itself. Again, they were advancing with no real plan, just following Colonel William’s directive to move. “I kind of lost it at that point,” said Wessan. “I said ‘This is not how we do things. We’re gonna lose somebody.’

“The platoon itself wasn’t operating in a careless manner, but the scheme of manoeuvre was not as tight as I would have liked.

“The thing was, why I lost my temper, was because I made a promise to my guys, from here on out we’re going to try to do things as deliberate as we can, so we weren’t going to push anyone else home early.”

Fortunately, by this point the Taliban forces had been torn up by almost 10 days of constant air strikes, artillery and direct fire from the LAVs and, aside from a few small contacts, there was no major fighting as Rugby fell. “We established a line just north of the school, and then all of a sudden we start seeing LAV antennas to the north,” explained Wessan. “It was crazy. And that was it, Rugby was secure and everything was good to go.”

In the end, Grizzly Six was a man heralded by one and all as a brave combat leader, most often seen driving into the direction of enemy fire. However, his willingness to risk the lives of the men under him in a similar fashion didn’t go over quite as well.

One of the constant themes of Op Medusa has been this struggle to find a balance between aggressive operations and reckless operations. What lies in the balance is battlefield intelligence, or the lack thereof. Without sound intelligence, any advance will entail great risk and possible calamity. Certainly Charles Company learned this the hard way on Sept. 3.

However, as Fraser notes, battlefield intelligence is never certain and even the best estimations of the enemy situation are apt to be wrong.

“Here’s the other thing I think Canadians have got to appreciate,” said Fraser. “You don’t ever have 100 per cent intelligence, OK? Metaphorically speaking, on a good day I would get 20 per cent. You can follow all the theoretical lines of A through Z of all the things you have to do, but at the end of the day, you fight an enemy and you’ve got to work in a truncated world and this is hard stuff.”

Meanwhile, for the commanders on the ground, it is no doubt the unreliability of intelligence that leads them to rely on methodical tactics and deliberate advance.

While the military is by no means a democracy, neither is it a dictatorship. The Army has doctrine and planning specifically to build consensus on how operations are to be conducted. Even still, doctrine can be ignored and plans can be abandoned–the tactical commander still has to decide whether to follow the order or not.

As Gauthier notes, “this is combat operation, and it’s tactical operation, and there are no black and white answers and there are no 100 per cent correct solutions to the problems that you face in combat. And I guess it comes down to judgment at each level, whether a particular decision on a particular day was appropriate or not appropriate.”

As for command and control during Medusa, Gauthier said he has no reason to challenge or second guess any of the decisions made at the brigade level during the operation. Despite instances of tactical commanders like Lussier, Lavoie, Sprague and Wessan making reasoned objections to certain orders, for Gauthier, the issue comes down to the military necessity of heeding authority in the chain of command.

“If (Lavoie) was not comfortable doing what he was asked to do to the point where he just thought it was not the right thing to do, he wouldn’t have done it. And the same applies to Sprague. And so not withstanding the fact that they probably didn’t think this was the best way to skin the cat, there are many different ways to skin the cat.”

In any case, now that the combat phase of Op Medusa was theoretically finished, the reconstruction phase of the operation could begin.

The effort to rebuild Panjwai and connect it more deeply to the Kandahar economy was focused heavily on the construction of a new road, called Route Summit, which would run directly north from the town of Bazaar-e-Panjwai to meet up with Highway 1 near Patrol Base Wilson.

For the next month, and, indeed, for the next several months, much of the battle group’s focus was on defending Route Summit and holding the territory for which they had just fought.

While the major combat operations were over on Sept. 14, the Taliban didn’t seem to accept their defeat. And indeed, it was this period of reconstruction that proved to be deadlier than the operation itself, as a combination of roadside bombs, suicide bombs, combat and mine strikes killed another 10 Canadian soldiers in the month that followed the capture of Objective Rugby.

The problem for the Canadians guarding the construction of Route Summit was that while they could ably defend their new road, they lacked the manpower to sweep westward in order to kill the enemy, or at least push them back.

“We did not have enough combat power to do that kind of sweep,” said Lussier. “You’d need a brigade to do that. And the other thing that people don’t take into consideration is that our leaves started at that point. So a third of the force is gone.

“You know even if we would have had the full combat team or the full battle group there, I still honestly don’t think we would have had enough combat power. I mean even for us to take Pashmul we had American help. And we were the priority for all air in the theatre, which all kind of went away after that. I mean, we always had it when we needed it, but we certainly didn’t have it stacked like we did in Pashmul.”

The issue of finding sufficient combat power was something Fraser was well acquainted with. In the end though, there were only so many troops available. “NATO was politically hamstrung to give me anything more than I could get (from inside my brigade),” said Fraser. “The other NATO countries were politically constrained as to what they could provide me. And that’s not Dave Fraser’s thing to comment on, it was what it was, OK? That’s my favourite saying, it was what it was and you deal with it.”

The reality was that there weren’t enough troops, NATO or Afghan National Army, to clear and hold the ground in order to prevent the Taliban from attacking.

Looking at the numbers, it’s hard to claim that all of the NATO allies are truly making the Afghan mission a priority.

The combined military forces of the NATO alliance total slightly more than nine million men, and yet only 38,500 are in Afghanistan–less than half a per cent of the total force.

In contrast, Canada’s 2,500-strong Afghan task force represents about 2.6 per cent of its total military forces, regular and reserve. If NATO countries were contributing on par with the Canadian commitment, there would be 238,225 troops in Afghanistan.

It’s hard not to see the NATO effort as an attempt to win a complex and difficult war with the smallest possible commitment. The result of this seems to be that NATO is too strong to lose and yet too weak to win.

In the end, Medusa was deemed a tactical success. The operation cleared the Panjwai pocket and ended Taliban hopes of knocking NATO out of Afghanistan in one fighting season.

However, the battle for Panjwai isn’t over yet. Canadian troops continue to die there.

While it may be too soon to say whether Panjwai will ever enjoy a NATO-secured peace, what is clear is that between Aug. 3 and Oct. 14, 2006, the Canadians fought to clear the district. They killed a lot of men, but they lost a lot too. This was a historic battle. These men died: Cpl. Chris Reid, Sgt. Vaughan Ingram, Cpl. Bryce Keller, Pte. Kevin Dallaire, Sgt. Shane Stachnik, WO Rick Nolan, WO Frank Mellish, Pte. Will Cushley, Pte. Mark Graham, Pte. Dave Byers, Cpl. Shane Keating, Cpl. Keith Morley, Cpl. Glen Arnold, Pte. Josh Klukie, Sgt. Craig Gillam, Cpl. Robert Mitchell, Tpr. Mark Wilson, Sgt. Darcy Tedford and Pte. Blake Williamson.

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