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‘He Is My Brother’: Retired Soldiers Want Canada to Help Former Afghan Interpreter Who Risked It All

Yesenia Harris



Injured. Attack. Ambush. Suicide.

Those are just a few of the English words Mohammed Nabi Wardak learned when he arrived at Kandahar airbase in 2007 for a 20-day course, before taking up a front-line interpreter’s role with the Canadian Armed Forces.

It should have frightened him. And maybe it did. But in his mind, helping those countries making up the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) fighting the Taliban meant helping the Afghanistan he wanted to see come into being.

“They gave us hope,” he said. “They told [of] brightness, good future, education, technology, computers. That stuff. At that time, for the first time, I saw a computer.”

Wardak, who was 18, spent the next 16 months as an interpreter with Canadian troops who were mentoring Afghan soldiers and police as part of an operational mentoring and liaison team (OMLT) in Kandahar Province.

“We were so deep in enemy territory that we could get overrun at any time,” said a former combat engineer attached to the 3rd Battalion of the Royal 22nd Regiment, also known as le vingt-deuxieme or the Van Doos.

CBC News agreed to refer to him by his nickname, Franck Charly, which he was known by when he spent his third and final tour in Afghanistan. Back then, he and Wardak were stationed at a remote police substation.

“Nabi used to sleep in the same room as me every night for almost six months. He was about, what, three metres from me? So, yeah, I knew him well. He dodged bullets the same way as we did.”

Wardak (front row, middle) worked as an interpreter in 2007 and 2008 with Canadian troops who were mentoring Afghan soldiers and police in Kandahar Province. (Submitted by Mohammed Nabi Wardak)

Today, Wardak finds himself homeless, jobless, and quite often, he says, hopeless. He’s been living rough in Athens since 2018, arriving as a refugee after fleeing Taliban death threats.

The Trudeau government is currently facing severe criticism for leaving behind many Afghan interpreters and others who supported Canadian military and diplomatic efforts in Afghanistan over the years in its chaotic exit this past summer, described by critics as disorganized at best and uncaring at worst.

Retired major Peter Sullivan, a deputy commanding officer of the OMLT in 2007, says Canada could have streamlined efforts to vet people and get them on planes out of the country as a priority, and dealt with other issues later.

“That’s, I understand, a very simple way of looking at it,” he said, acknowledging that it’s easy to judge from afar.

“But I think when the world is collapsing around you, you need simple, effective solutions. And so my belief is we, Canada, could have done a better job at that. I think some other countries did.”

WATCH | The National’s report on Wardak’s struggle to get Ottawa’s attention:

Afghan interpreter calls on Canada and Britain for help

1 month ago

While many Afghans have tried to flee their country when the Taliban took over, others began the quest for a new life many years earlier, such as Nabi Wardak, one who came to Canada and Britain’s aid and now needs them to come to his. 2:24

Wardak, of course, had already left Afghanistan. But his is a tale of an impenetrable bureaucracy nonetheless, and a system that he says has managed to mute his voice and render him invisible.

“It was not easy, my job. But these people which is sitting behind the desk and they haven’t been in Afghanistan one minute. They don’t know. They don’t think about that, what feeling I have.”

Death threats from the Taliban

When we met him in Athens in September, he showed us the carefully protected certificates of merit he was presented by Canadian and Afghan commanders, along with pictures of the men he had risked his life alongside, including Charly.

“Some of them, they call me brother,” he said with obvious pride. “As much as they were taking care of me at that time, I protect their lives from my experience because I grew up in the war. I [knew] Afghanistan’s situation.

“I was understanding who is the [Taliban], who is the farmer. Because how would [they] know that? A Canadian soldier when they arrived from Canada?”

Wardak has been living in Athens since 2018, arriving as a refugee after fleeing Taliban death threats. His wife and four children remain in hiding in Kabul. (Lily Martin/ CBC News)

Wardak eventually moved on to work as a battle group interpreter with British forces in the summer of 2008.

He says when he began receiving death threats from the Taliban, he approached both British and Canadian Embassy staff in Kabul for help.

The Canadians told him he would have to make any kind of immigration or asylum claim outside of Afghanistan, he said.

When the Taliban threats grew more insistent, Wardak decided to take his chances on the smuggler’s route from Iran to Turkey. He left his wife and four children behind with the hope of sending for them from either Canada or the U.K.

In 2015, he made it as far as the Turkish border before Iranian police caught him and deported him back to Afghanistan. He tried again the next year, making it to Turkey, where he spent 17 difficult months, working at one point as a shepherd.

When he contacted the Canadian Embassy in Ankara, he says he was told there were only two ways to get a visa for Canada: with the help of a sponsor or to be recommended by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The UNHCR would not be prioritizing single men.

Wardak finally made it one step further, to Greece, in 2018, where he was promptly jailed. He says he was given three choices: stay in jail, apply for asylum or be deported back to Afghanistan. He made an asylum claim.

While his case was being processed, he contacted the Canadian Embassy in Athens and says he was told he would have to take his request to a larger embassy in Rome. And so he started writing emails.

‘His situation … gives me palpitations’

When CBC News managed to track down two of the Canadian servicemen shown in Wardak’s pictures, they were clearly distressed to hear of his plight.

One of them was Charly. The other was retired master warrant officer Guevens Guimont, who had looked for Wardak on a return tour to no avail.

“My God,” he said. “We had many fights against the Taliban. Many confrontations. Hearing about his situation right now actually gives me palpitations.

“He [risked] his life, yes. I risked my life many times for his country. For a change in his country. He was my brother. He is my brother.”

A certificate of appreciation given to Wardak for his interpreting work with the operational mentoring and liaison team. (Submitted by Mohammed Nabi Wardak)

Now that the three have been reconnected, Guimont and Charly are trying to help Wardak through a system he’s so far failed to penetrate on his own.

“Five years here in Greece, when I will have news from somebody?” Wardak asked us back in September. “My life is past.”

Since then, he’s been contacted by the British Embassy in Athens, with a potential visa in the offing, although he says he’s not counting on it.

“I’m the ball of the football. And on one side of the pitch there is British and Canadian. They’re kicking me to each other. The other side, there is Taliban.”

Simply staying in Greece, now that he has the right to do so having been recognized as a refugee, is not an option in his mind, as family reunification is notoriously difficult there. Not to mention finding work to support them and their journey.

Wardak’s youngest son was just one year old when he left.

“Me and my wife, we are feeling ourselves in the middle of sea with broken ship and absolutely dark night,” he said. “We are not understanding to which side we are moving.”

Navigating the application process

When CBC News contacted Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to ask if they were aware of Wardak’s case, the stock reply came back to say they couldn’t comment for privacy reasons.

Canada has committed to resettling some 40,000 “vulnerable Afghan nationals” through two streams. The first includes individuals and their families who assisted Canada, and the second focuses on vulnerable groups outside of Afghanistan.

Although more than 9,000 applications have so far been approved in the first stream, just over 3,000 Afghan refugees have arrived in Canada.

To be eligible for that group, Wardak would have had to be in Afghanistan on or after July 22, 2021.

Two Canadian soldiers Wardak worked alongside told CBC News he did more than expected by helping to carry heavy weapons and ammunition. (Submitted by Guevens Guimont)

It is not the first time he’s fallen through the cracks.

In 2009, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government announced an immigration program open to Afghan interpreters who had supported Canada’s combat mission for at least 12 months between Oct. 9, 2007, and July 31, 2011.

Wardak’s service didn’t fit that window and he only learned of the program after it had closed.

“They did not go far enough back in that program and they should have kept it open for much longer than they did,” said Wendy Noury Long, founder of Afghan Canadian Interpreters, an advocacy group working to relocate interpreters to Canada since 2017.

“Having programs open for a very short period of time does not allow everybody to be able to apply. You’re dealing with Afghanistan in 2009, 2010, 2011. People did not have Facebook, people were just starting to get cellular phones.”

It’s a disconnect she points to today in the way IRCC handled the crisis over the summer as the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. There was an emphasis on forms and process “in the middle of what was essentially a war zone,” she said.

“An inability to be flexible and to understand the realities cost many, many people their chance to come to Canada in a much safer manner,” she said.

For its part, IRCC insists it has mobilized its “entire global network to process visas and issue them on an urgent basis.”

“We have set up a dedicated process, web form for questions and telephone line, with extended hours, to solely serve Afghan clients who are seeking information and assistance.”

‘I hope to see Nabi in my country’

None of this, it would seem, will be of any help to Wardak. At least not yet.

His small ray of light in all this, if there is one, lies in the knowledge that he has not been forgotten by his former brothers in arms.

That seems to mean something to him.

“If they hear my voice, they will understand what an important job I did,” he said when we first met.

They do. And they want Canada to do right by him.

“We gave our words almost, you know?” said Charly. “They did their part of the job. We should do ours.”

“I hope to see Nabi in my country,” said Guimont. “My God, if I can receive Nabi anytime.”

If it ever does happen, Wardak needn’t worry about having someone to pick him up at the airport.

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Russia Launches Fresh Offensive, Wants Sanctions Relief to Free up Ukraine Food Supply Routes

Yesenia Harris




Updates from Day 91 of the invasion

Severodonetsk remains under attack in the east, Ukraine officials say.

Zelenksy addresses Davos gathering, repeats willingness to negotiate with Russia.

Russia wants sanctions relief in exchange for access to food supply corridors.

Russia to eliminate upper age limit for military service.

U.S. won’t extend waiver that has allowed Russia to keep up with debt payments.

Russian forces launched offensives on towns in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, with constant mortar bombardment destroying several houses and killing civilians, Ukrainian officials said, as Russia focuses its attack on the industrial Donbas region.

Russia has been focused on attempting to seize the separatist-claimed Donbas’s two provinces, Donetsk and Luhansk, and trap Ukrainian forces in a pocket on the main eastern front, according to Ukrainian officials.

In the easternmost part of the Ukrainian-held Donbas pocket, the city of Severodonetsk on the east bank of the Siverskiy Donets River and its twin Lysychansk, on the west bank, have become a pivotal battlefield. Russian forces were advancing from three directions to encircle them.

President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office said Russian forces launched an offensive on Severodonetsk early on Wednesday and the town was under constant fire from mortars.

Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said six civilians were killed and at least eight wounded, most near bomb shelters, in Severodonetsk.

Smoke rises above a weapon manned by pro-Russian troops toward the direction of Severodonetsk on Tuesday in the Luhansk region of Ukraine. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

“At the moment, with the support of artillery, the Russian occupiers are attacking Severodonetsk,” Gaidai said.

Ukraine’s military said it had repelled nine Russian attacks on Tuesday in the Donbas, where Moscow’s troops had killed at least 14 civilians, using aircraft, rocket launchers, artillery, tanks, mortars and missiles.

WATCH | Russian troops would have to know some orders are unlawful: expert:

Expect dozens more war crimes trials to come due to Russia-Ukraine war, expert says

23 hours ago

Targeting unarmed civilians during war is ‘always criminal’ said Michael Newton, a law professor and former U.S. State Department official. There are dozens more war crimes trials to come out of the war between Ukraine and Russia, he said.

Reuters could not immediately verify information about the fighting.

The Donbas fighting follows Russia’s biggest victory in months: the surrender last week of Ukraine’s garrison in the port of Mariupol after a siege in which Kyiv believes tens of thousands of civilians were killed.

Three months into the invasion, Russia still has only limited gains to show for its worst military loss in decades, while much of Ukraine has suffered devastation in the biggest attack on a European state since 1945.

Zelensky said Wednesday that Russia must pull back to its prewar positions as a first step before diplomatic talks, a negotiating line that Moscow is unlikely to agree to anytime soon.

Speaking by video link to attendees at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Zelensky expressed a willingness to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin directly, but stressed that Moscow needs to make clear it, too, is ready to “shift from the bloody war to diplomacy.”

“[Diplomacy is] possible if Russia shows at least something. When I say at least something, I mean pulling back troops to where they were before Feb. 24,” Zelensky said, referring to the day Russia’s invasion began. “I believe it would be a correct step for Russia to make.”

Grain, food exports remain blocked

The war has also caused growing food shortages and soaring prices due to sanctions and disruption of supply chains. Both Ukraine and Russia are major exporters of grain and other commodities.

Russia said it was ready to provide a humanitarian corridor for vessels carrying food to leave Ukraine, in return for the lifting of some sanctions, the Interfax news agency cited Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko as saying on Wednesday.

Ukraine’s Black Sea ports have been blocked since Russia sent thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, and more than 20 million tonnes of grain are stuck in silos in the country.

WATCH | Recriminations, but few solutions so far to free up food supply routes:

Ukraine war deepens global food crisis

17 hours ago

The impact of the Ukraine war extends far beyond the country’s borders as Russian forces have destroyed crops and blockaded ports along the Black Sea, affecting the food supply in Africa and the Middle East.

Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies, and the lack of significant grain exports from Ukraine ports is contributing to a growing global food crisis.

Ukraine is also a major exporter of corn and sunflower oil.

Western powers have been discussing the idea of setting up “safe corridors” for grain exports from Ukraine’s ports, adding that any such corridor would need Russian consent.

“We have repeatedly stated on this point that a solution to the food problem requires a comprehensive approach, including the lifting of sanctions that have been imposed on Russian exports and financial transactions,” Rudenko was quoted as saying.

“And it also requires the demining by the Ukrainian side of all ports where ships are anchored. Russia is ready to provide the necessary humanitarian passage, which it does every day,” he said.

Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of planting drifting mines in the Black Sea.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday that Russia was using food supplies as a weapon with global repercussions.

“We are always ready for dialogue with all those who seek … peaceful resolution of all problems. I leave Ursula von der Leyen’s statement to her conscience,” Rudenko said.

He said that Russia would discuss the possibility exchanging prisoners with Ukraine once those who surrendered had been convicted. Russian and separatist officials have said some of those who surrendered should be tried for war crimes.

British military authorities say Ukraine’s overland export routes are “highly unlikely” to offset the problems caused by Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea port of Odesa.

The U.K. Ministry of Defence, in an update posted Wednesday morning, says there has been no “significant” merchant shipping in or out of Odesa since the start of the Russian invasion.

WATCH | Canada sends more military aid to Ukraine:

Canada is sending almost $100M in military aid to Ukraine

21 hours ago

Defence Minister Anita Anand announced that the federal government is set to send Canada’s biggest single donation of military equipment to Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion.

The ministry says that the blockade, combined with the lack of overland routes, means that significant supplies of grain remain in storage and can’t be exported.

“While the threat of Russia’s naval blockade continues to deter access by commercial shipping to Ukrainian ports, the resulting supply shortfalls will further increase the price of many staple products,” the ministry said.

Russia could be squeezed by U.S. move on debt

The U.S. announced early Wednesday it would not extend a waiver set to expire on Wednesday that enabled Russia to bondholders.

The Treasury Department said on its website late on Tuesday it would not extend the waiver, set to expire Wednesday, which allowed Russia to make interest and maturity payments on its sovereign debt.

A boy plays in front of houses ruined by shelling in Borodyanka, Ukraine, Tuesday, near Kyiv. While the Russian military has largely abandoned that region at present, the damage from the earliest days of the invasion is apparent. (Natacha Pisarenko/The Associated Press)

That waiver has allowed Russia to keep up government debt payments, but its expiry now appears to make default inevitable — the country’s first major one on international sovereign bonds in more than a century.

Almost $2 billion US worth of payments on Russian international bonds fall due before year-end.

Unlike in most default situations, Moscow is not short of money. Russia’s debt repayment dues pale in comparison to its oil and gas revenues, which stood at $28 billion in April alone thanks to high energy prices.

The Russian Finance Ministry said it will pay in rubles and offer “the opportunity for subsequent conversion into the original currency,” but that could be viewed by foreign investors as a default.

Russia to amend military service age rules

Russia’s parliament approved a law on Wednesday removing the upper age limit for contractual service in the military, amid heavy casualties in Ukraine. The bill now needs only the signature of Putin to become law.

Currently, only Russians aged 18-40 and foreigners aged 18-30 can enlist as professional soldiers in the Russian military.

Russia’s defence ministry said on March 25 that 1,351 service personnel had been killed and 3,825 wounded since Moscow sent its armed forces into Ukraine on Feb. 24. It has not updated its casualty figures since.

Both Ukrainian and Western intelligence officials have said Russia’s losses in Ukraine were significantly higher at the time, and have risen sharply since March.

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Earth’s Oceans Were the Hottest, Most Acidic on Record in 2021, UN Report Finds

Yesenia Harris




The world’s oceans grew to their warmest and most acidic levels on record last year, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Wednesday, as United Nations officials warned that war in Ukraine threatened global climate commitments.

Oceans saw the most striking extremes as the WMO detailed a range of turmoil wrought by climate change in its annual State of the Global Climate report. It said melting ice sheets had helped push sea levels to new heights in 2021.

“Our climate is changing before our eyes. The heat trapped by human-induced greenhouse gases will warm the planet for many generations to come,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas in a statement.

The report follows the latest UN climate assessment, which warned that humanity must drastically cut its greenhouse gas emissions or face increasingly catastrophic changes to the world’s climate.

The world’s oceans are the most acidic in at least 26,000 years, the UN agency said. (J. Sumerling/Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority via Associated Press)

Taalas told reporters there was scant airtime for climate challenges as other crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine, grabbed headlines.

Selwin Hart, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on climate action, criticized countries reneging on climate commitments due to the conflict, which has pushed up energy prices and prompted European nations to seek to replace Russia as an energy supplier.

“We are … seeing many choices being made by many major economies which, quite frankly, have the potential to lock in a high-carbon, high-polluting future and will place our climate goals at risk,” Hart told reporters.

On Tuesday, global equity index giant MSCI warned that the world faces a dangerous increase in greenhouse gases if Russian gas is replaced with coal.

The WMO report said levels of climate-warming carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere in 2021 surpassed previous records.

Globally, the average temperature last year was 1.11 C above the preindustrial average — as the world edges closer to the 1.5 C threshold beyond which the effects of warming are expected to become drastic.

“It is just a matter of time before we see another warmest year on record,” Taalas said.

Oceans bear much of the brunt of the warming and emissions. The bodies of water absorb around 90 per cent of the Earth’s accumulated heat and 23 per cent of the carbon dioxide emissions from human activity.

The ocean has warmed markedly faster in the last 20 years, hitting a new high in 2021, and is expected to become even warmer, the report said. That change would likely take centuries or millennia to reverse, it noted.

The ocean is also now its most acidic in at least 26,000 years as it absorbs and reacts with more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Sea level has risen 4.5 centimetres in the last decade, with the annual increase from 2013 to 2021 more than double what it was from 1993 to 2002.

The WMO also listed individual extreme heat waves, wildfires, floods and other climate-linked disasters around the world, noting reports of more than $100 billion in damages.

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NASA’s Mars InSight Mission Coming to an End As Dust Covers Solar Panels

Yesenia Harris



A NASA spacecraft on Mars is headed for a dusty demise.

The Insight lander is losing power because of all the dust on its solar panels. NASA said Tuesday it will keep using the spacecraft’s seismometer to register marsquakes until the power peters out, likely in July. Then flight controllers will monitor InSight until the end of this year, before calling everything off.

“There really hasn’t been too much doom and gloom on the team. We’re really still focused on operating the spacecraft,” said Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Bruce Banerdt, the principal scientist.

Since landing on Mars in 2018, InSight has detected more than 1,300 marsquakes; the biggest one, a magnitude 5, occurred two weeks ago.

It will be NASA’s second Mars lander lost to dust: A global dust storm took out Opportunity in 2018. In InSight’s case, it’s been a gradual gathering of dust, especially over the past year.

NASA’s two other functioning spacecraft on the Martian surface — rovers Curiosity and Perseverance — are still going strong thanks to nuclear power.

The space agency may rethink solar power in the future for Mars, said planetary science director Lori Glaze, or at least experiment with new panel-clearing tech or aim for the less-stormy seasons.

InSight currently is generating one-tenth of the power from the sun that it did upon arrival.

Deputy project manager Kathya Zamora Garcia said the lander initially had enough power to run an electric oven for one hour and 40 minutes; now it’s down to 10 minutes max.

The InSight team anticipated this much dust buildup, but hoped a gust of wind or a dust devil might clean off the solar panels. That has yet to happen, despite several thousand whirlwinds coming close.

“None of them have quite hit us dead-on yet enough to blow the dust off the panels,” Banerdt told reporters.

Another science instrument, dubbed the mole, was supposed to burrow five metres underground to measure the internal temperature of Mars. But the German digger never got deeper than a half-metre because of the unexpected composition of the red dirt, and it finally was declared dead at the beginning of last year.

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