Afghanistan: The Photographs That Moved Them Most

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Today, on the 12th anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan, TIME asks 40 renowned photographers to reflect on their harrowing experiences covering the conflict—and to describe which of their own photographs moved them most.

James Nachtwey, November 22, 2001 "The carefully negotiated hand-over of the city of Kunduz might be as good a reference as any to comprehend the reality of peace agreements in Afghanistan. Located in the north, near Uzbekistan, Kunduz was the last major stronghold of the Taliban following its withdrawal from Kabul. It had been under siege by the Northern Alliance, and an agreement was forged in which Taliban fighters would surrender in exchange for safe passage, and the city would be occupied by the alliance. For a couple of days, the Taliban began to drive out to their enemy’s lines and relinquish their weapons. On the appointed day, a large convoy of Northern Alliance troops moved forward. As it entered the city center, the remaining Taliban fighters opened fire from every direction. Chaos ensued. Both incoming and outgoing fire, from assault rifles, machine guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers was so dense and haphazard, one was as dangerous as the other, no matter which side you happened to be on. It was impossible to figure out where to take cover. Survival would be a matter of luck, and every moment carried the expectation of being hit. When the shooting was finished, the dead and dying were scattered about the streets. This Taliban fighter had been shot in the stomach and was slowly and painfully slipping away. The peaceful hand-over was later trumped by the guarantee of safe passage, in which dozens of Taliban who had turned themselves in were suffocated to death in the shipping container that was supposedly being used to transport them to a secure location." James Nachtwey for TIME
Stanley Greene, October 2001 "While approaching Sinja-Dara Afghanistan, a Taliban strong hold, the tank I was riding on came under attack by Taliban fighters. I was with another journalist, we had to dive for cover. We came under fire from rockets, mortars, rapid fire weapons and tracer bullets. I was on the ground looking up while all of this was going on, thinking we were not going to make it, and the only thing that could justify being killed in this matter was to get a picture. So I started shooting but the camera jammed from all the dust and I was only able to get a few shots. This is one of the shots that I was able to get off... When the camera died I just buried myself in the dirt and waited to die. When the fighting stopped, and the dust cleared, all I could think of I had dodged another bullet. And I had got the picture."Stanley Greene—NOOR
Zalmai, October 2001 "A few weeks after 9/11, I entered Afghanistan from the north to cover the fall of the Taliban. The area was then under the control of the Northern Alliance. Here I was, back in the country of my birth; where I had experienced the Russian invasion as a child. Twenty-one years had passed and this same country was still being ravaged by conflict and another war was just beginning. After days of traveling through the mountains of Hindu Kush on top of a truck, we entered Jabul Saraj on a dusty road leading to Kabul. First I saw the ruins of the buildings and then, the closer we approached, I saw the destroyed artillery and finally, in the middle of a barren, destroyed landscape, an old man with a baby in his arms. I stopped the truck. The thought that struck me was 'there is nothing left here to destroy. This country, the people, the land, have all been destroyed by more than two decades of war. Even the war machinery in the picture has been destroyed. The only light of hope was the baby in the hands of the old man, the power of life was emerging.' For years the Afghan people suffered under the Taliban regime to the general indifference of the international community. Then 9/11 happened and the planet suddenly turned its eyes to what was happening in Afghanistan. I will never forget what the old man told me: 'I hope this time is not again an invasion. I hope this time the people of the planet will help us finish with this nightmare and understand that we are in need of help. So many wars, and I hope not another one.' Ten years have now passed. I look at this picture now and wonder much truth remains in the image. I could still take this picture in many parts of Afghanistan today. The war is still going on 31 years later and still we forget about the people. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent in war machinery—machinery that destroys and gets destroyed. Against this backdrop, several generations of Afghans have been lost. And as in the image, the old continue to bear the young. Hope is born and yet hope is dying. This picture is my answer to a simple question: 'What are Afghans and Afghanistan made of?' If we really want the end of this war, this is what we need to ask more often. We need to recognize their humanity and try to understand, a bit more, its people and the lives and despair that is being thrust upon them." Zalmai for Newsweek
Ron Haviv, November 22, 2001 "In the fall of 2001, I spent several months with the Northern Alliance, eventually traveling with them as they retook Kabul with the help of the United States. After several days of celebrations, beard cutting and listening to music (all forbidden by the Taliban), fighting resumed outside the capital. On this particular battle, I was with a group of soldiers, armed with the idea they couldn't be defeated along with one carrying a sword and others running Helter Skelter towards the new Taliban lines. There was flat earth, marked with huge holes in the ground—perhaps made by air attacks and pockets of small mountains. Caught up in the swell of the masses charging towards the hills and Taliban, I found myself not thinking about where I was going and who I was going with and how these people actually fight. As the Taliban fired on us I took cover in a hole with a commander, some troops and another photographer. As we hunkered down, with bullets hitting on the ground around us we waited for the inevitable RPG to be fired at us. All of a sudden I looked over at the commander and blood began to trickle on his chest. He had been hit and was dying in front of us. Within seconds, two of his men bravely picked up him up and with no incoming fire, took him away. The remaining Afghans seemingly felt it was beneath them to lie in the dirt and stood up and walked away. Naturally we thought the same and stood up and began to run—the bullets flew towards us and we went Helter Skelter to our own safety. The few illusionary moments of peace were no longer and the war continued on its way." Ron Haviv—VII
Kadir von Lohuizen, November 2001 "It's November 2001 and the US has started the large offensive to remove the Taliban. The action is in the east around Tora Bora. After arriving in Turkmenistan I take a train to the Afghan border, a very rare glimpse of the Turkmenian country side. I arrive in the city of Herat, far from where the world attention is. I am here to cover what is going on in the western part of the country. The Taliban is gone, but a severe draught is taking a heavy toll. Thousands of people are fleeing not only the violence, but starving and looking for food as well. With all the major developments there is little attention for them. Even when they reach the city, aid takes a long time to arrive in their stomachs. Too few NGOs and an unexplained bureaucracy often lead to a three week waiting time before food rations and blankets are handed out. It's freezing during the nights and it's hard to dream about your regained freedoms with an empty stomach.”Kadir von Lohuizen—NOOR
Seamus Murphy, November 2001 "A young girl soon after dawn in the village of Ghulam Ali on the Shamali Plain. Fighting between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban, along with massive US air strikes, made the plain a critically dangerous place to live. This image—or maybe this girl—always makes me ask: Who are you? Are you still alive? What are you doing now, 10 years later? Do you still live in Afghanistan? Do you still live in your village on the Shamali Plain, north of Kabul? Are you married? Have you ever seen this photograph? Would you let me photograph you now?"Seamus Murphy
Christopher Anderson, November 2001 "A Taliban fighter seen through the windshield of a Toyota Hilux 4X4. He and other Taliban fighters were surrendering to Afghan Northern Alliance fighters during the siege of Kunduz. There was much nervousness because they had done a similar thing the day before as a ruse that ended in a suicide mission and several of the fighters set off grenades as they were being taken into custody. Also, usually when a surrender took place, the fighters recognized each other. But this day, they treated these fighters with caution as many were not speaking local languages. Speculation was that they were a mix of Chechin and Arab Al Queda fighters, but I cannot confirm this. The vehicle is smeared with mud in hopes of camouflaging it from American jets in the sky."Christopher Anderson—Magnum
Gary Knight, November 12, 2001 "This photograph was taken in the admissions office of the University of Kabul a few days after the fall of the Taliban on November 12, 2001. It is of the first Afghan women to register for classes since September 1996 when the Taliban seized control of the city. Any journalist—including me—who has skitted across the surface of Afghanistan will most likely have participated in the writing of the common Afghan narrative. A story that condemns the population to a role as extras in a diabolical morality tale, victims of the Faustian Mujahideen, the evil Soviet Union, medieval Holy Warriors and an obtuse and destructive America. This narrative isn’t wholly inaccurate, but it’s misleading and does a disservice to Afghanistan and Afghans. The reason I propose this photograph to you is because it captures a moment of determination and hope that challenges the narrative of despair I helped to write." Gary Knight—VII
Eric Bouvet, November 23, 2001 "I was fortunate to be one of the few photographers to be able to return to Afghanistan during the Taliban reign. I escaped many times from my 'bodyguards' to try to get some pictures, but I had to return quickly because they were angry and it became dangerous. This time I could photograph what I wanted—a woman in burka in the middle of the ruins of the city center, a symbol of this country. Today, I am on my 13th trip to this country. I've seen so many different regimes. The Russian invasion, the Mujahideen, the Afghan communist president, the different factions in power, Massud, Hekmatyar and their wars in Kabul, the Taliban, the international forces... And tomorrow when these forces are gone? I fear for Afghanistan." Eric Bouvet
Thomas Dworzak, Discovered in early 2002 "In a way for me, the Taliban portraits taken by local Afghan photographers in Kandahar remain the most surprising imagery from the time after 9/11. They are far more surprising, insightful, confusing and intimate than anything I could have dreamt of photographing there. When the Taliban came to power, according to their strict interpretation of Islam, they imposed a total ban on imagery of any human being or other mammal. Flies and fish were theoretically ok. Heads were removed from statues, donkeys scratched out on road signs. All photo studios in Kandahar, the capital of their movement had to close. A long dispute between Taliban representatives and UN officials ensued since they demanded passports without passport pictures. After several years though there was an urgent need for passport pictures for forms to obtain humanitarian aid. So, partly, only for the use by the Taliban themselves, the studios were allowed to reopen. According to the photographers, the Taliban then secretly started demanding to be photographed 'the old way.' Colorfully retouched images, in front of the ubiquitous Swiss backdrop, holding flowers, holding each other's hands. Although much has been said about homosexuality in this exclusively male society, this camp photographic style is nothing specific to Taliban, Pashtoo culture. It can be found all over Asia. It's just that the Taliban have been the only movement to so radically ban images—but remained unable to resist the urge of vanity, defying their own zealotism." Collection Thomas Dworzak—Magnum
Paula Bronstein, March 1, 2002 "It was barely spring in 2002 but things in Afghanistan were clearly better than now since there was a glimmer of hope for peace with the Taliban ousted from both southern Afghanistan and Kabul. In so many ways it is incredible to me that a decade has passed since the Afghanistan war began. My first trip into the country was in early December, 2001, immediately after the fall of Kandahar. In 2002, Mohboba was only seven years old at the time that I shot this photo. She is now a teenager and I thankfully have survived many trips to the worn torn country witnessing so many changes. I was photographing at this medical clinic doing a feature story on this disfiguring skin disease called Leishmaniasis, a horrible bacterial skin infection caused by tiny sand fleas. When I noticed this little girl standing against this bullet ridden wall, her face was covered with purple iodine used to disinfect the lesions. The rare skin disease plagued the poor who sleep on the ground in unsanitary conditions. Many refugees flooding into Kabul at the time were living in abandoned buildings or tented camps so this story was highlighting some of the health issues. Seeing Mohboba, I thought this image is so incredibly iconic, her spotted face against the war ravaged concrete wall. This photo seemed to say so much about war. I knew that I needed to grab the shot before it disappeared, before she slipped inside the medical clinic or her mother pulled her away. Lucky for me her burqa-clad mother stepped away from the camera quickly but Mohboba kind of froze in her tracks just looking at me rather timidly, covered in rags during a cool, early morning in March. Since then this photograph has remained one of my signature images from my ten years of work Afghanistan, it has been in every exhibit, and still remains as my cover image for my book project on Afghanistan."Paula Bronstein—Getty
Christopher Morris, August 2002 During the two trips I made to Afghanistan in the summer of 2002, I spent most of my time trying to convince one or two special forces teams to let me work with them. They work in small teams and would rarely let journalists go out on a mission with them, so gaining confidence was quite difficult. Most never want to have their face shown. I never would have imagined that after the Russians were driven out in the late 1980's, I would see U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan. To me, this ring represented that total absurdity of war—the total evil that war brings out in men. Christopher Morris—VII
Stephanie Sinclair, August 30, 2003 "I met Marzia in the burn ward of Herat Public Hospital in late 2003. She'd been married at the tender age of 9, and at 15, she set herself on fire after accidentally breaking her husband's television set. It was the first time I'd been to Afghanistan and would turn out to be the first time I'd meet someone who'd been married as a pre-pubescent girl. At the time, I didn't know girls were ever married so young—or that the consequences could be so dire. Today, I continue my work on this issue and am collaborating with politicians and advocacy groups worldwide to help protect the 100 million more young girls who will be married over the next decade if this trend continues." Stephanie Sinclair–VII
Emilio Morenatti, October 4, 2004 "It is very difficult for me to choose one single image among the thousands I took during the time I spent on assignment in Afghanistan. I don’t really know whether this photograph represents what is currently happening in Afghanistan—in fact I don’t think one single image would be able to describe the complexity of the current situation in Afghanistan. However I have chosen this photo because it shows something beyond a group of girls watching U.N. workers unloading ballot kits from an helicopter to hold its first direct presidential vote in their remote village. What this photo shows is part of an Afghan generation still free of repression imposed by Taliban rule. You can see how calmly and naturally they react in front of the camera, they don’t flee in fear covering themselves with their veils like girls and women do in other part of the country, they don’t run away from the foreigner photographer—on the contrary, they are absorbed by what is happening in front of them. In spite of living in very poor conditions in an remote village, without running water and electricity, those beautiful girls are relatively fortunate—precisely due to their isolation—compared to most women in the rest of the violence torn Afghanistan."Emilio Morenatti—AP
Abbas, September 2005 "A GI on patrol in Kabul seems lost among the ruins overlooking the capital, shrouded in the mist of dawn. Are these ruins historical or the result of recent battles? What 
is an armed African-American soldier doing in a Central Asian city? What invisible enemy is he guarding against? 

The photo is a symbol of America’s presence in Afghanistan. It reminds me of the film The Desert of the Tartars."
David Guttenfelder, March 9, 2005 "The boy had wrapped his face in a piece of old mosquito netting to act like a girl wearing a burqua. His friend was pretending to kiss him. Behind them a man took his evening prayers. I spent 10 years covering the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. My time there was bookended with dramatic news events and combat coverage like the fall of the Taliban at Tora Bora in 2001 and several major U.S. Marine and Army operations since Obama's 2009 surge. But most of my visits during the past decade were spent simply wandering around, and using street photography to try and say something meaningful about peoples' daily lives. Ordinary moments like this are interconnected with moments of the war and violence. In this picture, I was trying to comment on women's issues in my own way. Unmarried boys and girls in Afghanistan live mostly separate lives, with little or no contact. These boys later admitted that they had never spoken to a girl. I shot this photo in the spring of 2005. At that time, the world was very focused on Iraq. Afghanistan was forgotten. But I was so happy to be there. I didn't want Afghanistan to be ignored and I was blown away by the melancholy beauty of the country." David Guttenfelder—AP
Stephen Dupont, October 1, 2005 "I was embedded with a psychological operations team attached to the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne Division back in early October 2005. We were on a combat mission near the village of Gombaz in Kandihar Province when I witnessed and captured images of U.S. soldiers burning the bodies of two dead Taliban combatants. The 'psych ops' guys used the grisly incident to broadcast anti-Islamic statements across the valley in order to taunt the enemy. The photographs and story sparked condemnation from Muslims around the world, including that of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The Pentagon ordered an inquiry into the event which ultimately led to disciplinary action on some of the U.S. servicemen involved and a change in U.S. Military policy. Psychological operations were suspended and a cultural awareness booklet was printed and distributed to all U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq."Stephen Dupont
Paolo Pellegrin, May 2006 "This picture was taken in 2006. It shows a Russian helicopter landing in Kabul to pick up Afghan counter-narcotics troops and American DEA agents. They had received a tip from an informant and their mission was to assault a village in the rugged mountains near Jalalabad to bust opium laboratories possibly tied to the Taliban network. The assault was carefully staged both by land and air forces but in the end though just one low-level arrest was made and a small bag of hashish seized. The opium labs, if they were ever there in the first place, vanished."Paolo Pellegrin—Magnum
John Moore, October 20, 2006 "I was staying overnight at a U.S. obvervation post in the Afghan Paktika province, overlooking the Pakistan border. The small post had almost been overrun during a Taliban attack just weeks before, so the soldiers were hyper-alert, constantly scanning the surrounding hills for insurgents infiltrating from Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal belt. There was a lot of idle time, and one of the soldiers pulled out a box of grenades to show me. He lifted up one with a message for the enemy 'One (1) Free Trip to Allah.' I supect the Taliban would have appreciated the sentiment."John Moore—Getty Images
Peter van Agtmael, May 2007 "This picture was taken in a small outpost in the Pech Valley of Eastern Afghanistan in 2007. The outpost was at the bottom of a valley by a winding dirt road that was one of the main transport hubs for the region. It was called 'California' and was attacked frequently from the surrounding mountains. A platoon of soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division manned California; they lived in holes dug in the ground reinforced by sandbags and dirt barriers. There was no running water and the soldiers' uniforms were black with sweat and dirt. A small contingent of Afghan soldiers lived in the base and smoked hashish constantly. Some of the Americans would join them at night when the base was blacked out and the leadership was in their bunkers. A few stray dogs roamed the base, looking for scraps. They were loosely adopted by the soldiers, but when one pissed on a cot they blew it to bits. Still, the soldiers seemed to need the intimacy of being able to touch another living thing. They were in the fifteenth month of an extended tour and had only been home once for two weeks. 'The Pech' as it was known was largely abandoned by the U.S. Army in early 2011 but they began re-fortifying towards the end of the summer. Over a hundred American soldiers have died in the valley." Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
Lynsey Addario, October 23, 2007 "As the war in Afghanistan completes its tenth year, many U.S. soldiers have been on two, three, tours already to Afghanistan and Iraq, and have witnessed an incredible amount of injuries and death. The troops who started the the 21st century as idealistic teens have been jaded into combat veterans, traipsed the mountains of the Korengal Valley looking for Taliban, held their comrades as they took their last breaths. Many couldn’t place Afghanistan on a map before 9/11, and are now learning the ins and outs of a culture confounding to even those who have spent years there. I have been covering Afghanistan since it was under Taliban rule in 2000, and have had the honor of going on a countless number of embeds with American troops in the South and the East of the country. I’ve watched the general attitude of the troops shift from complete devotion to our country’s need to be there in the early days, to a constant questioning of what, in fact, we are doing there, and whether it makes any difference at all. Many troops are learning now—years later—about Pakistan’s nefarious hand in the region, and questioning why we continue losing our men to Taliban ambushes and improvised explosive devices, when very little has changed in the country in the past ten years. In the fall of 2007, I spent two months in the Korengal Valley with correspondent Elizabeth Rubin for the New York Times Magazine, and the 173rd Airborne Division, Battle Company. At the end of the embed, we accompanied the troops on Operation Rock Avalanche, a six-day U.S.-led offensive in which the mission of American troops was to hunt Taliban fighters in the Korengal Valley—to lure them out of hiding to ultimately kill or capture them. Twice during the mission, we were airlifted onto the sides of mountains, and spent the subsequent days walking, exploring potential Taliban hideouts, waiting for contact. On October 23, the Taliban ambushed us from three sides, and overran one of the troops’ positions on the spur of a mountain, killing Staff Sergeant Larry Rougle, and wounding two other infantrymen. In April 2010, the U.S. Military closed the Korengal outpost. Forty-two American service men, including Sgt. Rougle, died fighting in the Korengal, and hundreds were wounded."Lynsey Addario—VII
Finbarr O'Reilly, October 23, 2007 "On October 23, 2007, the Canadian troops I was embedded with were ambushed by Taliban while on foot patrol in Kandahar province. A shell from an 82 mm recoilless rifle exploded nearby and sent Sergeant Major Paul Pilote flying. I couldn't see Pilote at first, but then he emerged crawling dazed and injured through the dust. The ensuing firefight lasted a few hours, but the first moments were the most intense. I was probably photographing to suppress my own fear as much as to get a good picture. One challenge of being embedded involves finding ways to illustrate the story without showing the Western military in an overly sympathetic or even heroic light. This image feels both honest and representative of the conflict. Despite all their machinery, muscle and technology, Western forces have become bogged down in a complex war against a resilient enemy. Perhaps the most effective weapon the Taliban has is time. Will Western troops still be there in another 10 years?" Finbarr O'Reilly—Reuters
Alex Majoli, April 2008 "I was in Pakistan traveling to the Chaman border pass that opens to the road to Kandahar, Afghanistan. The goal of the story was looking for Taliban in this area where many Taliban were taking refuge and where an apparent peace was reign, also here many logistics took place for Taliban fighting in Afghanistan. The only way to travel here was driving, hidden behind tinted windows inside a truck. We didn't want to get kidnapped. At one moment when we were out of the car, we saw many of them, unarmed. Some of them agreed to talk to us, and my fear dropped instantly. He told us he was going to back to fight after a few weeks."Alex Majoli—Magnum
Michael Kamber comments on a photograph taken in June, 2008 by Tim Hetherington, who died while on assignment in Libya earlier this year "It’s hard to channel the words of a dead friend. Who knows what a man fallen in battle would have said, especially one as hyper-articulate as Tim Hetherington? Before his death in Libya this past April, Tim and I argued about many things, one of them being the meaning of his photos from Afghanistan of the men of the 173rd Airborne. I was interested in the mechanics of warfare. 'My photos are not about war,' he’d say to me--and to anyone else who would listen. 'They’re about young men.' Tim was interested in how war changed and molded, traumatized and hardened the soldiers. He was digging deeper—deeper than most of us, anyway. What is the motivation that pushes 20-year-old kids from middle America to go on fighting and dying half way around the world? It was not for their country, nor to avenge 9/11, nor to free the Afghan people, he said, (though all of those things may have been true), but for one simple reason: the bonds the soldiers formed with one another. While many other photojournalists were focused on the guns firing, (the mechanics of war), Tim took pictures of the soldiers asleep in their bunks, (“as their mothers saw them”), playing, teasing, wrestling with one another. He peeled back the uniforms and revealed the young, vulnerable, complex men from middle-America. By coincidence, I was with some of these men from the 173rd Airborne last week. I can tell you that they adored and idolized Tim, the tall, goofy British photographer who lived with them for so many months." Tim Hetherington—Magnum
Jan Grarup, September 18, 2008 "This is from the German base in the outskirts of Faizabad, showing Afghan workers taking cover as a helicopter with German special forces takes off for an operation in the mountains between Faizabad and Kunduz. For me, the image has value because it shows the difference between the local population and the coalition forces in the country. The very different ways we live and the gap in how we understand the country. War is nothing new to the Afghan population—they have lived with it for decades, while for many in the western world it is something very dramatic and serious. We fight for democracy and rights. We want to implement western values into a country which in many ways are (from my point of view) not ready for it. Reality is that it takes years to develop democracy—it needs to be understood and respected before it starts to actually work. For me there is a big gap between the way we operate in Afghanistan and the way people live, and to some extent I don't really think we understand that. These images show this."Jan Grarup–NOOR
Yuri Kozyrev, May 2009 "In a conservative country like Afghanistan, being raped can mean a lifetime of shame for the victim and her family. Women almost always prefer to keep silent about the crime. Even discussing the issue of rape is taboo. In fact, a word for rape does not exist in either Dari or Pashto, Afghanistan’s two main languages. Rape has become one of the most widespread wartime crimes in some Afghan provinces. According to women’s rights groups, hundreds of girls, women, and young boys have been sexually assaulted by warlords. In 2009, I accompanied an Italian journalist to the northern province where 39 cases of gang rape had occurred. We met some victims whose families were ready to come forward in order to bring justice. After the story was published, readers donated money to the victims. It was amazing to return six months later. We helped the families to invest the money to help their futures."Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR
Eros Hoagland, July 2, 2009 "I was embedded with the Welsh Guard of the British Army during operation Panchai Palang (Panther’s Claw) in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province in the summer of 2009. On the last day of my embed I was traveling by road convoy with British journalist Thomas Coghlin when one of the vehicles in line was hit by an IED. We spent the night in an abandoned compound near the road to guard the destroyed vehicle until wreckers could retrieve it during daylight hours. We were woken by a Taliban RPG blast that injured one of the soldiers in our group. Gunfire continued for the next hour as the Brits counter attacked the Talibs from our static position. For the next several hours our small group of armored vehicles inched across orchards and rivers to rendezvous with the rest of the convoy—we did anything to stay off of the mined roads at that point. At the end of the day, all the soldiers of the unit met on a large plot of land filled with tanks and small, tracked personnel carriers. As the sun fell, the field commander rallied his exhausted men together to discuss the day’s events, and plans for the final push back to the camp Bastian, the main British base in Helmand. The exhaustion and intensity etched on the face of this British soldier captures feelings of pride and duty, but also expresses battle fatigue and frustration. The soldier’s physical appearance: short cropped hair, aquiline features, a slight goatee—even the look of the body armor—reminds me of a Christian knight of the first crusade. I have been delicately pondering, and exploring though visual symbolism, the idea of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan falling into place as the latest chapter in a modern crusade—an ongoing confrontation between Christianity and Islam. I don’t believe the average western soldier gives much thought to the weight of the Christian presence in Muslim lands, but the hosting nation certainly does. Many Afghans see the western military presence as the latest chapter of an age-old war pitting Islam against Christianity. They don’t think about the larger geopolitical roller coaster—and why should they? The Iron Cross is still painted on the side of German tanks rolling through Kunduz and the British Army still flies the flag of Saint George at their operating bases in Helmand. Any Afghan sheepherder can see that." Eros Hoagland
Danfung Dennis, July 3, 2009. "Unless you have a personal connection, the war in Afghanistan is an abstraction. After ten years since the initial invasion, the daily bombings and ongoing violence have become mundane, almost ordinary. It is tempting to become indifferent to the horror and pain. It is much easier to look away from the victims. It is much easier to lead a life without rude interruptions from complex insurgencies in distant lands. But it is when we take this easier path [that] the suffering becomes of no consequence and therefore meaningless. The anguish becomes invisible, an abstraction. It is when society becomes numb to inhumanity [that] horror is allowed to spread in darkness. Through my work I hope to shake people from their indifference to war, and to bridge the disconnect between the realities on the ground and the public consciousness at home. By bearing witness and shedding light on another's pain and despair, I am trying to invoke our humanity and a response to act." Danfung Dennis—Hell and Back Again
Michael Kamber, July 16, 2009 "I think many of us took some really terrible photos in Afghanistan: bodies torn up by bombs, ripped apart by bullets. But this photo always disturbed me—placid though it is. We were on a night mission and these American soldiers went door to door pulling men from their beds in front of their screaming children, putting them on the ground in the freezing cold, then marching them off under arrest. Maybe some of the men were insurgents, you almost never know when you're out there. But they were all released the next morning. As we hiked back to base around 5 a.m., the First Sergeant was sort of thinking out loud. 'Boy, we sure didn't make any friends out there tonight,' he said." Michael Kamber for The New York Times
Julie Jacobson, August 14, 2009 "Most people remember a photograph for a particular moment captured in that image. For the photographer who shot the frame, an image made is memorable not just for the moment captured, but often, also for the events leading up to and even after that moment. For me, a moment I captured on August 14, 2009, of 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard on patrol in Afghanistan was altogether intense, moving and memorable. Intense for the exploding RPG fired by the Taliban that hit Bernard and jarred us all. For the ensuing firefight, bullets crackling overhead, the deafening and jolting sounds of machine gun fire. For my own personal shock at the serious wounds Bernard suffered from that hit (RPG's have a short effective range, and we didn't know he had been hit directly). For the stunned and vulnerable look on his face as he lay and rolled on the ground with his arm still reaching out to his weapon while a medic and other Marines moved quickly to help him, and then for the fullness and strength of his voice as he twice uttered, 'I can't breathe, I can't breathe.' Moving for the reminder of what the 'ultimate sacrifice' actually is, and how it can be asked of all Marines, soldiers, sailors or airmen regardless of the country they serve. There is nothing glorious about it. That is what it can and does look like: horrific, shocking and sudden. Up to that point, I'd had many experiences with destruction and casualties. I'd been to Iraq, embedded with casualty evacuation squadrons, been to suicide bombing scenes. Yet I'd never been there as another human being lay dying. The image still moves me to this day even without looking at it. Every time I see someone in uniform, I see that moment and am reminded of what their fate could be. It ingrained in me a deeper respect for anyone who would step outside the wire on any given day. And memorable. Everything leading up to and during the one half-second of that moment photographed was clearly memorable as was everything that happened in the weeks and months that followed. As technically imperfect as the photograph was, that moment, that Marine's last moments, to me, were too significant to turn away from or to not transmit for consideration by my editors. The story of that photograph was too significant to not have it released for publication. And yet it became the center of such controversy. Mostly, the actual release of the photograph by the AP was criticized, and I was berated for having shot it. What was most memorable was that it seemed more attention was paid to the AP's release of the image, and less emphasis was placed on what was actually going on in the picture and why. That angered me because I had been so personally moved by what had happened on August 14, and it was my intent not just to inform people of the consequences of war, but to share with others, through a photograph, the same shock, horror, gratitude and respect that I had experienced watching Lance Cpl. Bernard that day. Intense, very. Moving, still. And memorable, always."Julie Jacobson—AP
Adam Ferguson, September 4, 2009 "To me, this picture epitomizes the abstract idea of the 'enemy' that exists within the U.S. led war in Afghanistan: a young infantryman watches a road with a long-range acquisition sight surveying for insurgents planting Improvised Explosive Devices. U.S. Army Infantrymen rarely knowingly come face to face with their enemy, combat is fleeting and fought like cat and mouse, and the most decisive blows are determined by intelligence gathering, and then delivered through technology that maintains a safe distance, just like a video game."Adam Ferguson—VII for TIME
Pancho Bernasconi, VP/News and Sports of Getty Images, comments on a photograph taken October 15, 2009 by Chris Hondros, who died while on assignment in Libya earlier this year "I was recently reading one of Chris' documents. I'm certain he was preparing to teach a seminar or help a group of students get a better understanding of the profession and the challenges that come with doing the sort of conflict work he excelled at. One of the points he wrote down was, 'Great photography requires steadiness of hand and heart. Very often the window to take an important picture is only open for a fraction of a second. Waver or hesitate, even if the world is crashing down around you, and the moment will pass.' When I read his words and then take in his picture of the soldiers protecting themselves as debris from the rotor wash fills the Afghan air and a portion of the chinook hovers at the top of the frame, his words 'steadiness of hand and heart' ring so very true. The energy in the frame is all encompassing; the debris, the soldiers protecting themselves, their method of transport out of the battlefield descending from above, all join together to capture a moment that is all too fleeting and demands that the photographer be at his very best. That's what Chris was—always at his very best."Chris Hondros—Getty Images
Franco Pagetti, December 29, 2009 "The morning when I shot this image I had been walking on patrol with the soldiers of the 2nd Platoon, Baker Company, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army I was embedded with for six hours around the Korengal valley, widely considered one of the deadliest places for American soldiers in Afghanistan. We came across a platoon from the Afghanistan National Army in Loy Kolay and one of these soldiers was wearing the mask. I looked at this young man and thought that he was covering his face as he would cover the brutality of what is going on in his country. He didn’t speak to me but it’s as though I could hear him saying, 'I'm doing this but it is not me, it is the devil.' In the war zones where I work I like to look at how humans try to find always something that helps them move on and hope for better times."Franco Pagetti–VII
Moises Saman, March 2010 "For me this photograph represents the failure of the American war in Afghanistan. In March of 2010, shortly after U.S. Marines captured the village of Marja from the Taliban, the newly appointed district chief held his first meeting with local tribal elders. The victory in the battle for Marja, and the 'Government-in-a-box' promised afterward, were trumpeted by the United States as the decisive strategy that would change the course of the war once and for all. Sadly it is now obvious how this was just another false start, a footnote in a costly war filled with unkept promises and missed opportunities. Ten years on, Afghanistan is more than ever staring at a precipice. The levels of corruption within the Afghan government and the West's unwillingness to do anything about it are making the return of the Taliban a viable option in the minds of a greater number of Afghans." Moises Saman—Magnum
Adam Dean, June 2010 "This image was taken in the summer of 2010 during the height of Obama's surge in southern Afghanistan where I spent a few months embedded. The two soldiers' vehicle had just been blown up in an IED on the highway close to Kandahar and they are seen here consoling each other as they are rescued. I remember the confusion and emotion I felt when taking the photo. I had this overwhelming feeling of guilt that I was intruding on such a painful and private moment but also realized the poignancy and power of what I was seeing through my camera and that I had to record it."Adam Dean–Panos Pictures
Jérôme Sessini, June 2010 "I went to Afghanistan in June 2010 without a precise purpose [only] to find out there the banalities of war reporting: action, blood and tears. Moreover, I found boredom, waiting and uncertainty. Considering that it is almost impossible for a photographer to work in the south of this country without being embedded with the military, I decided to spend a month with the U.S. Marines in Helmand with Charlie Company in the Griffin Patrol Base. Lance Corporal Taylor Richards, a 20-year-old with whom I established a friendship, came from Trenton, Georgia, and we patrolled together during the two weeks I spent at Griffin. I knew nothing about him. He was shy and discreet, facing the objective. I am not that talkative either. Therefore, patrols were made in silence with extreme concentration. The soldiers missed everything: their wife, their family, their country. In fact, every one of these kids is a volunteer, but their troubles hurt and their discomfort is contagious. Seven months in this nowhere-to-be-found hole, with no link with the outside world‚ how can they not hate this country? To have come this far, for so long with no battle to fight, nor to have heard a bullet shot, is the worst of all frustrations, which brings out the acceptance of the inconvenience of war without tasting the heroism of a warrior. On June 22, I decided to leave Griffin Patrol Base. I was exhausted. But above all, I had a bad feeling. Richards and about 10 other Marines were getting ready to join the Forward Operating Base (FOB) patrol at Habib. This time I would not go with them. On June 26, as the unit came back from patrolling Habib, Richards walked on an IED. The emergency unit did not arrive on time. He died that night. I could not stop myself from thinking that I could have been a part of that patrol. For sure, just behind Richards. I can see him at the moment of my departure, giving me a piece of paper where he had written the email address of his wife Emily: 'Please, as soon as you can, tell my wife that I am doing fine.'" Jérôme Sessini–Getty Images
Kevin Frayer, July 11, 2010 "Patrols are a dangerous part of the war in Afghanistan, and in the Arghandab Valley during the summer of 2010 they were particularly punishing. It was during the surge of U.S. troops and the violence was edging higher. I had arranged to photograph a series of portraits of Afghan National Army soldiers at the end of a joint patrol with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne. The platoon was tired and many of them wore expressions that showed the strain of the days.Yet the face of this one soldier, Ghulam Hidar, stood out: the distant stare of a young man who has seen nothing in his life but conflict. To me, the intensity of his face captures the nervousness and fear of a war that has gone on much longer than the past decade. I am moved by his stare and often even disturbed by it. In his eyes I see something that anyone exposed to this war has felt so many times before." Kevin Frayer—AP
Jodi Bieber, July 15, 2010 "The photograph I took of Bibi Aisha has moved to another level which makes it most significant to me on a very personal level. I recently met Aisha in Queens, New York. It felt incredible to be driving there approximately a year after having met her in Kabul, Afghanistan. She has been very much part of my life for more than a year after publication on the cover of TIME Magazine and winning the World Press Photo of the Year. Aisha had only met me for 45 minutes in Afghanistan. I was nervous. At first she did not recognize me, and then when describing the day I photographed her, she came and gave me a very warm hug. Her personality is strong and fiery and she has taken on a completely new life. She walks the streets of Queens confidently without her prosthetic nose. She has made friends and is learning to speak in English. The operation will take place in a couple of months. It is not often one sees such a significant change in the person you have photographed—and a change in own's own life too. It also gives me great joy to see how this photograph has moved and impacted so many people throughout the world." Jodi Bieber—INSTITUTE for TIME
Christoph Bangert, July 28, 2010 "If I would have to choose one single image to describe the war in Afghanistan, I maybe would choose this one. It most closely fits the feeling of lonely, bizarre and pointless death that defines the misery that war is. The Afghan died before American military medics could try to save him. The dead body was covered and placed in the shade beside Hesco barriers so it could be picked up later by the security company."Christoph Bangert—laif/Redux
Rodrigo Abd, October 10, 2010 "For me this image sums up my feelings about the war in Afghanistan. The loneliness of the soldier in the midst of an unknown desert. The brutality of a war that left thousands of victims and that is increasingly unpopular. A country that, after ten years of military occupation, does not have a promising future."Rodrigo Abd—AP
Teru Kuwayama, January 23, 2011 "Over a decade in Afghanistan, I mostly lost interest in photography. The photographs of ruined landscapes, men with guns, children and tents, etcetera have been made over and over again by photographers like myself. Perhaps in some kind of circular loop, I now look at those images and I see logistics and statistics. The part I never get used to is the detainees. The zipties and blindfolds are nonlethal, and usually, in my experience, they're non-malicious, but they're probably the most offensive and corrosive daily rituals of the occupation. There's no polite way to occupy a country, but the bagged heads are black holes in the hearts-and-minds campaign. This is a photograph of strategic blindness."Teru Kuwayama—
Larry Towell, March 26, 2011 "Gul Juma doesn’t know her age. She was about nine years old when she lost her left arm in a U.S. air strike against her village in the Sangir district of Helmand about a year ago. The bomb killed her two sisters and a cousin, and left deep shrapnel scars on her cranium. She now lives with family members in the Charahi refugee camp on the west end of Kabul. From there, she walks to Qarga beach to beg. An elder in a black traditional Pashtun turban shows me a small stack of color photographs of dead children he describes as 'his martyrs,' killed in similar air strikes. He does not allow me to take his photo, as he has to cross ISAF checkpoints when he travels home by bus and is afraid of being recognized for showing such evidence to a western journalist. There is no way of knowing exactly how many Afghan civilians have been killed, how many wounded. Conservative estimates suggest 10,000 casualties with eight to nine injured persons per death. In a country that is now almost 100 percent embroiled in this conflict, it is hard to imagine a single soul that has not been scarred, given the concentric circle of family ties."Larry Towell—Magnum
Mauricio Lima, April 2011 "This photograph was taken in April this year during my second visit to Afghanistan on assignment for the New York Times. Mid-afternoon, after ten long hours of walking, mentally drained, I found this memorable moment crossing my path. It was day two of a joint operation against the Taliban by U.S. and Afghan troops, in a remote village of Naka, eastern Afghanistan, close to the Pakistan border. When I saw them, I instantly overtook some soldiers to approach, breathed, waited and stole this photograph. It was a peaceful moment for my eyes, such beautiful shaved heads—twin brothers in a traditional Afghan dress, caught in a poetic moment as they reacted to the soldiers moving forward behind me. The scene revealed human feelings, expressed in contradiction to conventional elements and hostility of classic conflict photography. The image offers a glint of hope—this is the main element of my photographs. In this case the photograph reflects not only the uncertain future for the Afghans, but also their gratitude. If this image would be done 10 years earlier, just the elderly would be framed—less old and less affected by what is now two decades of anxiety. Even the cow wouldn't be here to witnessed the sight of war in its momentary peace."Mauricio Lima—The New York Times

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