The 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group has won the Governor General's Commander-in-Chief Commendation for its support of Canadian troops during a landmark battle in Afghanistan almost six years ago.
It's an honour that has only been given to six Canadian battalions since its inception in 2002.
The U.S. Army Green Berets fought to protect the flanks of a Canadian battle group as it pushed deep into the Taliban redoubt of Pashmul during Operation Medusa in 2006.
The American unit's exploits in taking and holding a hill known as Sperwan Ghar during the battle are chronicled in a new book, Lions of Kandahar, which was released recently to much fanfare in U.S. military circles.
The book not only offers a glimpse inside the secret world of commando operations, but sheds new light on the battle.
The commendation was presented to the Green Berets at a special ceremony in Fort Bragg, N.C., by Lt.-Gen. Stuart Beare, head of Canada's overseas command.
He called it a rare honour and compared it to the U.S. Presidential Unit Citation awarded to the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry during the Korean War.
"This is really quite extraordinary," Beare said in a telephone interview. "Col. Omar Lavoie, as you know, was commander of the battle group back then and he made sure I came down here with a message, written by his hand, to pass on to these folks (because) he and his troops knew how much of a difference these folks made."
The soldiers being recognized belonged to the battalion's Task Force 31, which fought a series of pitched battles with the resurgent Taliban in the summer of 2006, a time when militants threatened to march on Kandahar city.
About 40 members of the unit were present for the ceremony.
Special Forces operations are cloaked in secrecy and accounts of their actions sometimes take years to surface in the U.S., with the notable exception being the U.S. Navy Seal team raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Canadian missions are never publicized, even years after the fact.
At the time of the battle, the role of U.S. special forces was described as acting as a screen to prevent Taliban from escaping across the border into Pakistan.
But the new book paints a harrowing account of a handful of American soldiers clinging to a barren mountain side 40 kilometres southwest of Kandahar city trying to prevent an insurgent counter-attack that could have driven into the Canadian flank, which had already been weakened by a bloody, failed river crossing and a friendly fire attack.
The Green Berets have "a story that needs to be told and they're well-suited to tell it," said Beare.
The operation, which extended from Aug. 26 to Sept. 17, 2006, was the biggest land battle NATO had fought to that time in Afghanistan and resulted in the deaths of 12 Canadian soldiers and three Afghan service members. Ten members of the U.S. Special Forces were wounded.
As part of the background material released Wednesday, the Canadian army said 550 insurgents were killed during the fighting out of a total estimated force of 1,400.
There's been a simmering debate among historians about Taliban casualty figures. The number used in public has fluctuated over the years with references by Canadian military and political leaders ranging up to 1,000 deaths.Suggest a correction