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In today's Morning Brief, we look at the military exercises Russia has staged with its central Asian neighbours, and what message they may be sending about Afghanistan.

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Russia's recent military drills send message to Taliban — and Afghanistan's neighbours

On a remote, windswept stretch of the Russian steppe last week, a military official shouted into a microphone, giving play-by-play commentary as tanks, combat helicopters and fighter jets fired and bombed their way through a multi-nation exercise near the Kazakhstan border. 

It is one of several drills that Russia has staged in recent weeks alongside allies from central Asia. The latest one, which a CBC crew was invited to witness, took place between Sept. 20 and Sept. 24 at the Donguz training range in Russia's Orenburg region. 

Nine nations took part in the drills — dubbed "Peace Mission-2021" — including Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China, all of which border Afghanistan. 

The exercises were partially focused on anti-terrorism operations, and officials with Russia's Ministry of Defence were eager for them to be publicized. 

While it is clear Russia is keen to show off its vast weaponry and military prowess, observers say the country is also sending a message. Just what that message is — and who is meant to receive it — is up for debate.

Since the Taliban seized power in Kabul and ousted Afghanistan's government on Aug. 15, the militant group has tried to assure the international community it will run a stable government. But it has not renounced its ties with al-Qaeda, and there are concerns the takeover of Afghanistan could lead to a rise in terrorism in the region. 

Temur Umarov, a research consultant with the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Russia is broadcasting competing narratives through its public statements and its military exercises about the risk of threats from Afghanistan spilling beyond its borders.

He said on the one hand, Russia is projecting confidence in a bid to assure its citizens that it has the situation "under control." At the same time, officials are telling neighbouring countries that the risk emanating from Afghanistan is so great, they better fall into line with Moscow. Read more on this story here.

Thai protesters call on PM to resign

(Jack Taylor/AFP/Getty Images)

Anti-government protesters use water pressure to launch homemade projectiles during a demonstration in Bangkok on Monday, as activists called for the resignation of Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha over the government's handling of COVID-19.

In brief

Canada's Catholic bishops on Monday said they would give $30 million to help support survivors of the residential school system, a pledge met with cautious optimism by some survivors and skepticism by the Assembly of First Nations. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) said the funds will be doled out over five years. The move comes after the CCCB apologized to Indigenous people for the suffering endured in Canada's residential schools, most of which were run by the Catholic Church. "This effort will help support programs and initiatives dedicated to improving the lives of residential school survivors and their communities, ensuring resources needed to assist in the path of healing," CCCB president Raymond Poisson said in a statement. The pledge was "long overdue," said AFN National Chief RoseAnne Archibald. "Due to previous financial promises by the church not being met, [I'm] sure the Bishops will understand First Nations skepticism and mistrust about their commitments." Read more reaction to the financial pledge from the Catholic bishops.

Alberta has set yet another record for the number of patients requiring critical care as the health-care system buckles under the pressure of the pandemic's fourth wave. There are currently 312 patients in intensive care units (ICUs), the vast majority of whom are COVID-19 positive, an Alberta Health Services (AHS) spokesperson said in a statement. AHS continues to open additional ICU spaces and redeploy staff to meet patient demand, including opening another 38 surge beds in the past week, the statement said. During that same period, ICU patient numbers have increased by 11 per cent, AHS said. There are currently 370 ICU beds in Alberta, including 197 surge spaces. ICU capacity, including surge beds, is at 84 per cent, AHS said. A letter addressed to the public from the Alberta Medical Association's intensive care section paints a grim picture should the situation continue to worsen. "We remain on the verge of a health system collapse in Alberta," it reads. Read more on the COVID-19 cases in Alberta.

WATCH | Patient describes ICU stay as Alberta doctors call for 'fire break' lockdown: 

Patient describes ICU stay as Alberta doctors call for ‘fire break’ lockdown

9 months ago
Duration 2:23

The Liberal Party is requesting a recount in the federal riding of Châteauguay-Lacolle after Elections Canada reported what it called a "potential anomaly" in the count that saw the Bloc Québécois candidate defeat the Liberal by 286 votes. Elections Canada confirms it detected a possible issue with one of the ballot boxes after the results had been finalized. The agency did not offer details. "Since validation, Elections Canada has become aware of a potential anomaly with the results reported for a single ballot box at an advance poll," Elections Canada spokesperson Natasha Gauthier said in a statement. The riding's result was the seventh-closest in the federal election, according to Elections Canada's results. Bloc Québécois MP Patrick O'Hara won on Saturday with a 0.59 per cent margin over Liberal incumbent Brenda Shanahan, who was first elected in 2015. Read more on the request for a recount

Mounties failed to adequately investigate a teen's sexual assault and arrested people without reasonable grounds, according to the civilian watchdog agency that oversees the RCMP. Those rulings by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) for the RCMP come from the dozens of public complaint investigations concluded by the agency this year that criticized the actions of RCMP officers. The CRCC has concluded 168 public investigations so far this year. It disagreed with the RCMP's initial findings in almost half of them. All of the cases posted online are scrubbed of any identifying information; names, locations and dates have been removed. In one case, an officer arrested an intoxicated 13-year old youth (whose sex was not disclosed) for breach of probation. According to the evidence in the case, the young teen disclosed that they had been sexually assaulted earlier that day, but the arresting RCMP officer took no immediate action and instead put the youth in a police cell overnight. "Because of the delays in launching the investigation, physical evidence was not preserved. Nonetheless, a full investigation was carried out, resulting in charges and a criminal conviction against the offender," says the CRCC's final decision. Read more on the public complaint investigations

WATCH | Residents leave letters of hope at grave of residential school whistleblower : 

Residents leave letters of hope at grave of residential school whistleblower

9 months ago
Duration 0:51

As Canada prepares to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, some are quietly paying their respects to a man who more than a century ago tried to sound the alarm about the appalling health conditions in residential schools. Dr. Peter Bryce was the chief health inspector for the Department of Indian Affairs who, in the early 20th century, tried to alert the nation to the atrocious conditions in residential schools — where abuse, malnutrition and especially tuberculosis were taking a deadly toll on the children forced to attend the institutions. His warnings were largely ignored, and he was branded a troublemaker and pushed into retirement from the public service. In 1922, Bryce published his own pamphlet about the schools titled The Story of a National Crime. He died a decade later. "One of Dr. Bryce's greatest laments is that ... the work of saving these children's lives did not get done in his lifetime. He died feeling like he was a failure," said Cindy Blackstock. A professor at McGill University and executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, Blackstock has been working toward righting that historical wrong. Read more about Bryce here

Cadence Weapon has won the 2021 Polaris Music Prize for his album Parallel World. The record by the Edmonton-born rapper (real name Rollie Pemberton) was selected by an 11-member jury as the Canadian album of the year, based solely on artistic merit. The announcement was made Monday during an online celebration hosted by CBC Music's Angeline Tetteh-Wayoe. Across its 10 songs and 26 minutes, Parallel World makes distinct references to Black experiences and history in Canada and draws inspiration from a wide range of music, literature and art by Black creators to reflect our "dystopian present." "It is dark," Pemberton told CBC Music, describing the album. "Have you looked outside lately?" He explained that Parallel World resulted from a pandemic-induced period of self-reflection. Read more about Cadence Weapon's win

Now for some good news to start your Tuesday: Carly Druwe of Brandon, Man., has seemingly made it a tradition to give back for her birthday. Last year, when she turned 36, she set a goal to donate 36 pounds of food to a local food bank. She ended up collecting several hundred pounds. This year, she's marking the occasion by setting another goal — collecting 37 purses, filling them up with toiletries and other items, and donating them to various agencies. "I've got an insane amount of stuff," Drewe said. "The amount of donations has been overwhelming. It's been wonderful." She's collecting donations until the end of the month, when she will package everything up and distribute them to different agencies that work with the city's less fortunate. "My hope with this also is for people to think about it and maybe they can do something similar," she said. Read more about Druwe's birthday giving.

First Person: Can a trans man find happiness in Labrador? I'm about to find out

Mason Woodward was born and raised in central Labrador, a place known for harsh winters and even harsher mosquitoes — but not for its LGBT community. Even as young as eight years old, he knew something was different about himself, he writes. Read Woodward's column here

Front Burner: Auf Wiedersehen, Chancellor Merkel

Angela Merkel is preparing to step aside after 16 years as Germany's chancellor, but Sunday's election has left questions over who will lead next.

Preliminary results show Merkel's Christian Democrats with their worst-ever performance, and a scattered vote means multiple parties will enter coalition talks that could last months. 

Today on Front Burner, we're joined by the host of Berlin's Common Ground podcast, Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson. She'll explain how Merkel built her legacy of stability, and the emerging forces that threaten to reverse it. 

Today in history: September 28

1924: Two U.S. army planes land in Seattle, Wash., becoming the first to fly around the world. The journey included 74 stops and required 175 days. 

1972: Paul Henderson scores the most famous goal in Canadian hockey history with 34 seconds remaining in the final game of the Canada-Soviet Summit Series in Moscow. The NHL stars scored three times in the final period to win 6-5 and take the series with a 4-3-1 record. Henderson scored the winning goals in each of the last three games.

1981: The Supreme Court of Canada rules that the federal government's plan to patriate the constitution from Britain without provincial consent was legal but contrary to constitutional practice or convention. Following the decision, victory was claimed by both Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and the provinces.

2003: Manulife Financial Corp. agrees to buy Boston insurer John Hancock Financial in a $15-billion deal that marked one of the biggest takeovers in Canadian history.

With files from The Canadian Press, The Associated Press and Reuters

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