Afghan interpreter reunites with Canadian soldiers

A former Afghan interpreter for the Canadian Forces has immigrated to Canada and re-established contact with two commanding officers he worked with closely during the conflict.

Interpreter saved life of officer who lost legs in firefight

Mohammad Rahman (right) and Maj. Mark Campbell see each other's faces for the first time since Campbell lost both his legs during an Afghanistan firefight in 2008. (CBC)

A former Afghan interpreter for the Canadian Forces now living in Ottawa has re-established contact with soldiers he helped during the war in Afghanistan.

Watch & listen

Julie Ireton files a full report on Afghan interpreter Mohammad Rahman on CBC's The National at 9 p.m. ET on CBC News Network and 10 p.m. ET on CBC. Also hear the story on CBC Radio's The Current at 8:37 a.m. and 8 p.m. ET.

Mohammad Rahman was no usual interpreter, according to soldiers who worked alongside him. Rahman carried a gun and medical emergency kit and was able to tie a tourniquet and administer an IV.

He can also speak five languages — Dari, Pashto, Urdu, Arabic and English — which made him indispensable to Canadian soldiers.

Four years ago, Rahman saved the life of Maj. Mark Campbell when the pair were caught in a firefight with the Taliban in Kandahar province's Panjwaii district .

"He was my personal bodyguard," Campbell said of Rahman. "He was the only interpreter allowed to carry a weapon and that’s because he was an Afghan National Army senior medic. He brought all those medical skills that came into play to some degree the day I was hurt."

Campbell suffered serious injuries, losing both legs in the field of battle. Rahman worked hard to save the man’s life.

Rahman, a.k.a. Froggy, worked with nine commanding officers as an Afghan interpreter for the Canadian Forces, including Maj. Steve Nolan (left). (Julie Ireton/CBC)

"I put for him tourniquets and also I give him IV before the battle group medic was coming to help me. Very bad place for me in my life," Rahman said of that day.

Rahman —  or Froggy as he became known because of his throaty, croaky voice — was the head interpreter for nine different Canadian commanding officers.

Maj. Steve Nolan was another of them, forging a bond while working in 2008 and 2009.

"It took many cups of tea and many meals," Nolan said, recalling how Rahman helped him, just as he had helped Campbell, mentor hundreds of men in the Afghan battalion.

"He not only knew the culture and the language, he knew all of the people in that brigade."

Family immigrated to Canada

Rahman is now a permanent resident in Canada after immigrating to Ottawa with his wife and seven children in October 2011. Kandahar became just too dangerous for them, he said.

He has also reunited with Campbell and Nolan. The reunion with Campbell was especially emotional, even though it was via Skype, as both men wiped back tears while they remembered the violent day in June 2008.

Campbell bought Rahman a laptop so the pair could communicate through Skype. (CBC)

"I lost you for four years. I was so worried," Campbell told Rahman. "It’s like finding a long lost brother you thought was dead."

Rahman told Campbell he went back to camp the day of the ambush and cried for two days.

"It was a very bad day for us, because you want to bring peace for Afghan people."

Rahman and Campbell said they hope to reunite in person later this year. Nolan and Rahman, meanwhile, got together in Ottawa within days of the interpreter’s arrival.

Soldier helped bring interpreter to Canada

Nolan donated coats and boots to the man and his family. He has also turned the tables by helping Rahman adjust to life in a new country.

Rahman is grateful to the Canadian government for allowing him and his family to immigrate.

"I pray for Canada Parliament, they saved my life," he said.

Nolan helped bring Rahman to Canada by introducing him to some federal bureaucrats in 2009.

The Department of Citizenship and Immigration was developing a new policy that would allow interpreters and other Afghan contractors a potential fast track to immigrate.

Nolan tried to show bureaucrats the danger Rahman would face when Canadians left the country.

"Froggy, through all his time serving with the Canadian Forces, has probably done way more for Canada than 95 per cent of the citizens of this country. So I feel really good that immigration came up with this policy," said Nolan.

Immigration process under microscope

Close to 400 Afghan nationals have come to Canada under the policy, but two out of three applicants have been rejected. The federal government insists it is reviewing the process to change that.

Rahman said the policy brought both safety and comfort for him and his family.

"I have night letters from the Taliban three times," he said. "[Taliban] said quit this job or if we catch you, we kill you."

He still keeps a copy of the threat to remind him of how he and his family escaped dangerous circumstances.