On Sept. 2, 2006, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) launched Operation Medusa, a ground offensive operation against the Taliban that garnered them international respect, defined a new generation of soldiers and become the first NATO ground combat operation in history.
“Operation Medusa was the first real deliberate combat operation since the Korean War. It also symbolized Canada’s willingness to undertake combat operations and reaffirmed the Canadian soldier as a warfighter. It debunked the prevailing mythology that CAF was a “peacekeeping” force. In addition, it rekindled trust and credibility of the CAF in the eyes of our allies, particularly the Americans and British,” said Col. (ret’d) Bernd Horn author of No Lack of Courage: Operation Medusa, Afghanistan.
The main objective of Op. Medusa was to reclaim the Pashmal/Panjwayi district of Afghanistan from the Taliban, who had reinforced the area in an attempt to take control of the district from the Government of Afghanistan and the Coalition.
In the morning of Sept. 2, a force 1,500 strong comprised of four companies, one artillery battery, one ISTAR Squadron, one engineer squadron, elements of the Afghan National and United States Armies along with air support, launched its strike against the enemy force. Aerial strikes and ground offences in both the north and south continued throughout the day to corner the Taliban into a trap. At the end of day one, the fighting had been successful for the Coalition and the Canadians had no casualties.
The intent was to conduct a detailed reconnaissance for several days as the troops continued bombardment before moving forward and then deciding whether to attack the Taliban stronghold from the north or south side. However, the very next morning Lavoie and his troops were ordered from above to forge on ahead. Without the benefit of the detailed reconnaissance, the troops crossed the Arghandab River. The crossing proved to be tragic with the first casualties of battle: three soldiers from 1 RCR: Private William Cushley, Warrant Officer Frank Mellish, Warrant Officer Richard Nolan and one engineer from 2 CER: Sgt. Shane Stachnik along with many wounded.
“It caused us to show our cards, I think, prematurely before we had a chance to conduct detailed reconnaissance, so that was an early setback,” stated MGen Omer Lavoie, who was at the time a Lieutenant Colonel and commander of the Task Force 3 – 06 Battle Group.
With fewer cards in hand than anticipated, Lavoie decided to change tactics and covertly moved a majority of his troops in the north. While Taliban engaged the remaining soldiers left in the south, Coalition forces also attacked from the north and within the span of a week they destroyed the Taliban forces in the area.
Operation Medusa had several key outcomes in both the war in Afghanistan and in redefining the Canadian Army.
The Taliban had been pushed out of the Panwayi district and as such the enemy forces realized that they could no longer take on the Coalition in a conventional way and began using asymmetrical tactics.
Operation Medusa also forever changed the soldiers of the Canadian Army.
“It really defined a new generation of soldiers for the Canadian Army because for most of us it was really our first experience in combat operations, even though most of us had experience in peace support type of operations in the Balkans etc. It really changed the culture and character of the Canadian Army certainly reinforcing what it is we are really in the end and as a last result trained to do,” said Lavoie.
To learn more about the background of Operation Medusa and gain insight on personal experiences, subscribe to the Canadian Military Family Magazine and check out the complete version of this article in the fall edition.