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02/02/2012

Afghanistan Revisited

Bernard Weil, Chief Photographer, Multimedia                                                                                    

@bernardweil

 

Ten years ago on February 3rd, the first wave of Canadian troops arrived at Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan, as part of the multi-national coalition forces war against terrorism. Star reporter Mitch Potter and I were dispatched to document this historic mission, Canada's first non-peacekeeping role since the Korean war.

It was also important to us that we tell the story of the Afghan people during their time of liberation. 

Star reporter Kathleen Kenna and her husband and interpreter Hadi Dadashian joined me after Mitch returned to Canada. En route to Herat to report on the the plight of mountain top villagers who were unable to get food supplies, we stopped in Kabul for several days to finalize our plans. After further discussions we decided to cover the bombing campaign raging in an unsecured mountainous region that was a three hour drive south of Kabul.

On that fateful day and on two separate occassions, we were attacked by what was believed to be Taliban sympathizers. In the first attack, Kathleen was gravely injured in a roadside attack targeted at our vehicle by a grenade wielding Afghan. After getting Kathleen and Hadi to an American special forces base for medical assistance, I again came under attack in the dead of night by mortar fire while heading back to Gardez with a convoy of journalists escorted by American soldiers.

My assignment came to an abrupt end and the efforts by The Toronto Star and the U.N. began to get me out of the country.

The photos in this blog are a selection of images that remain following the loss of my laptop during the melee. In addition, I've included a Toronto Star pdf and link to a story from The Washington Post on these incident 

 

BlogAfghan01

Gaetan Gosselin of Montreal, waves as a plane load of Canadian troops come off a C17. Canadian forces arrived early in the morning at the Kandahar International Airport, Afghanistan, February , 2002. Gosselin was amongst the first Canadian soldiers to arrive in Afghanistan.

 

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In stark contrast to their arrival, Canadian troops from B Company are put to work, heading out to the south west perimeter of the Kandahar air base, Afghanistan, February 10, 2002, where they will be taking up positions once fully deployed. The fine sand and dust mixture penetrated every crack and crevice, including my camera equipment. Changing lenses while out in the field was impossible. I normally worked with 2 bodies equipped with 16-35mm and 80-200mm lenses.

 

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Canadian Master Cpl. Bill Irving, with Lord Stathcona Horse, keeps watch from a Coyote stationed at the Kandahar air base, Afghanistan, February 13, 2002. The Coyote is providing direct fire support at this position. The ruins of a Russian made Afghan military aircraft rusts in the background. 

 

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Canadian troops work on a Coyote at the southern perimeter at the Kandahar air base, Afghanistan, February 5, 2002. 

 

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Canadian infantrymen shave at Kandahar Airfield February 4, 2002. Charged with holding the fort, few of them will leave the base or meet any Afghans other than members of the local work crews imported daily as casual labour.

 

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Canadian Capt. Ray Chaisson casts a shadow on a tent at the Kandahar air base, Afghanistan, February 13, 2002. The ruins of a Russian made Afghan military aircraft rusts in the background. The Coyotes positioned here provided direct fire support at this position, one of many position that Canadian light armoured vehicles will occupy as part of Canada's participation to the defence and protection of Kandahar Airport. This is one of the first Canadian sub units to be put on the line, and one of the first permanently stationed positions the Canadian Forces have taken over since arriving more than a week ago, and the first to be photographed by media.

 

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Canadian soldiers carry supplies past remnants of Soviet military aircraft, at the Kandahar air base, Afghanistan, February 13, 2002.

 

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Lt. Darren McDonough, of Charlie Company Fort Campbell, works out against the setting sun at Fort Apache, Kandahar International Airport, Afghanistan, February 3, 2002.

 

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Military personnel are framed by the silhouette of a Chinook helicopter, which just landed against the setting sun at the Kandahar air base, Afghanistan, February 12, 2002.

 

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An illumination flare silhouettes a Chinook helicopter parked on the tarmac at the Kandahar air base, Afghanistan, February 13, 2002. Moments before, tracer rounds were seen heading straight for us at the air base. U.S. Army soldiers reacted immediately by returning weapon fire and launching AH-64 Apache Helicopters. All lights on thebase were shut off, inlcuding the runway. The only lights left on were those illuminating the detainee compound. After an hour, a large white brief flash could be seen in the far distance, on the other side of a mountain range separating the airport from the city of Kandahar. Media were instructed to refrain from casting any shadows from the distant lights of the detainee compound to prevent from becoming a target.

 

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A time exposure of U.S. soldiers running away from a Chinook helicopter that landed in the dead of night at the Kandahar air base, Afghanistan, February 13, 2002. The only lights left on are those illuminating the detainee compound. Moments earlier, the base came under attack. Photographing the movement of detainees was strictly forbidden at the time.

 

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Sleeping quarters at the Kandahar air base, Afghanistan, February 12, 2002. Mitch Potter (in background), and I shared this tent with 14 international journalists. Getting a night's sleep was impossible since all transport flights were conducted at night on a runway behind our tent. In addition, reporters from different parts of the world each had their own deadlines.

 

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The once opulent lifestyle that former Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohamed Ohmar led in his lavish residential compound in Kandahar, sits in ruins after the American military overthrew the Taliban regime. The large hole is a result of the attack. The compound is now occupied by guards.

 

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Afghan boys runs around a large crater created by a bomb in Shakar Darra, or Sugar Valley. Farmers in the once fertile region are anxious to replant the fruit trees destroyed by the Taliban.

 

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Girls who haven't reached puberty need not veil themselves and many like this girl, viewed through a rickshaw on a street in Kandahar, decorate themselves with full makeup. It's a practice that raises no eyebrows. "They are not yet women," a shopkeeper explained. "So it is nothing. 

 

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In downtown Kandahar, slabs of raw meat hang from hooks set up in makeshift, bare-dirt stalls. 

 

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During Taliban rule, some 300 executions took place at this site. A bullet hole in the soccer post at the stadium is all that remains when, under Taliban rule, this was the site where people were stoned, executed, and had limbs amputated. This soccer goal post was used to tie people to, and then they were shot. Afghans now enjoy the freedom to play inside the Kandahar Sports Stadium. What was once the killing field in Afghanistan is now a focal point for the people of Kandahar to come to and enjoy themselves. Some play cards on the turf, others play soccer and fly kites. 

 

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Jawed, a photographer working on the streets of downtown Kandahar, takes a photo of a customer in Kandahar, Afghanistan, February 15, 2002. Jawed has been a photographer for the last three years, and says he finds the work interesting. The camera, a large box with a lens in front, also houses small bowls for developing the prints. 

 

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A customer holds a negative print taken by Jawed. Without film, the image taken has to be captured onto a piece of photo sensitive paper, producing a negative print. The small print is then photographed again, producing a positive print for the customer. 

 

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Like the rugged landscape and the value of a sturdy camel, the ancient Pashtun laws of honour and hospitality endure in Kandahar province.

 

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A baby girl is taken care of by three women on one of the main streets in Kandahar, Afghanistan, February 15, 2002. The baubles of liberation can be seen by the jewellery and painted nails the women are wearing, which was not allowed during Taliban rule. Women in Kandahar are required to wear burkas because of tribal customs in the region. The heavy makeup is commonly worn by small children and was tolerated during Taliban rule only for children. The black burkas are a sign of mourning.

 

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A view from inside one of the buildings at Osama bin Laden's complex at Leewa, Afghanistan, 5 km from the Kandahar air field, Afghanistan, February 16, 2002. The complex includes an arms manufacturing plant, a training facility which was bombed by U.S. airstrikes. Unexploded bombs and landmines litter the area. Our journey required driving through desert laced with land mines for nearly an hour before reaching this site. Wee were hampered by a sand storm on our return, our original tire tracks barely visible.

 

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Further inside Osama bin Laden's complex at Leewa, Afghanistan, we were forced to stop taking pictures seconds after this photo was taken, and told to wait for the local commander to talk with us. Soon after we were told to leave.

 

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Mitch Potter (right) and I, along with our interpreter (left), gingerly step through the remains inside one of the buildings at Osama bin Laden's complex at Leewa, Afghanistan, 5 km from the Kandahar air field, Afghanistan, February 16, 2002.

 

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Young women study in class at the Kandahar Intermediate Medical College, Afghanistan, February 16, 2002. They do not have to wear their burkas in class, they are kept in a cubby. The windows are also white washed, preventing anyone from the outside being able to look in.

 

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Aziza Khairkhwa, 15, is a medical student at the Kandahar Intermediate Medical College, Afghanistan. "We don't want to throw away our Islamic cloaks, we are not prisoners, " she said referring to the burkas they wear outside . "It is not the Taliban, it is our culture. 

 

BlogAfghan28

Kandahar Intermediate Medical College students Aziza Khairkhwa, 15, Hurl Nisa, 19, and Adiba Saiam, 13, sit in a room during an interview. At right is Ahmed Mahmood, 52, director at the school.  

 

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Getting around by donkey, bike or car is a regular sight in the congested area of downtown Kandahar. It's estimated there are 200,000 people in Kandahar, although there hasn't been a census since the Soviet take over in 1979.  

 

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Headlights cut through the thick and constant haze of sand and dust on the roads in Kandahar. Curfew has recently been lifted in here, allowing free travel at night.  

 

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Barely visible, a small truck strains under the load of Afghan refugees travelling in the Shamshatoo refugee camp, 35km southwest of Peshawar, Pakistan, February 26, 2002.  

 

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The photo of interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai in the front window means this SUV, one of several owned by Karzai's nephew, local boss Farid, has right of way in the streets of Kandahar. The Karzais are members of a prominent local clan in a society ruled by tribal traditions.

 

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Phalawan, our body guard, prays while children play soccer on the outskirts of Kandahar, January 31, 2002. The name Phalowan means wrestler.

 

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Afghan youths play soccer on a large rocky field on the outskirts of Kandahar, Afghanistan, January 31, 2002. Not far from the area is Taliban leader Mullah Omar's home, which was bombed by U.S. military.

 

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Police in Spin Boldak, near the Pakistan border, keep watch on the main road leading to Kandahar, February 19, 2002. Across the street is the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Refugee camp. Ten thousand tents have been set up, housing nearly 170,000 refugees, mostly nomads. 

 

BlogAfghan36

Getting around by donkey, bike or car can be a tricky thing in the congested area of downtown Kandahar. It is estimated there are 200,000 people in Kandahar, although there hasn't been a census in all of Afghanistan since the Soviet take over in 1979.  

 

BlogAfghan37

Dogs battle in an open pit during organized fights held every Friday (Holy Day), at the edge of the city in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 1, 2002. Except for a few cuts and scratches, the fights usually wind up without major injuries, ending if a dog submits, retreats, or is pinned to the ground by the other - most often by the scruff of the neck. Owners often have to pull the dogs apart if the fighting gets dangerous. 

 

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A dead animal lies at the entrance to the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Refugee camp on the main road in Spin Boldak near the Pakistan border, February 19, 2002. The total number of tents in the area number 10,000, housing nearly 170,000 refugees, mostly nomads. 

 

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The precarious route between Spin Boldak and Kandahar. The few paved sections of roadway are cratered and bombed out, including bridges destroyed by American attacks against the fleeing Taliban. Vehicles continue to drive over it at their own risk. The remainder of the roadway is often an impassable potholed, lunar-like gravel route.

 

BlogAfghan40

Noorullh tends to his flock of goats on in a dried out river bed outside Kandahar, Afghanistan, February 15, 2002. A six year drought has dried up most rivers in this part of Afghanistan. This area is traditionally a popular picnic site. 

 

BlogAfghan41

Young children show off henna patterns applied to their hands at the Shamshatoo refugee camp, 35km southwest of Peshawar, Pakistan, February 26, 2002. Pakistan is beginning a repatriation program at the camp, which is now home to 53,000 refugees, starting February 29, for refugees wishing to return to their homes in Afghanistan.

 

BlogAfghan42An

Afghan boy trudges throught the mud in search of sticks for firewood, oblivious to the training of the new Afghan army in the background, on the outskirts of Kabul, March 2, 2002. The new troops, which will number 600 in total, are being trained by coalition forces made up of British, German, Italian, and Turkish soldiers. 

 

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Kandahar money changer will gladly trade you 300,000 Afghanis for an American $10 bill. Operations like his are the only kind of banking that goes on in the region.

 

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Children play at the Shamshatoo refugee camp, 35km southwest of Peshawar, Pakistan, February 26, 2002.

 

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Ten-year-old Farishta Hashim peeks through the adobe wall of her home at the Shamshatoo refugee camp, 35km southwest of Peshawar, Pakistan, February 26, 2002.  

 

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A guard surveys the damage done after American forces destroyed the compound of former Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohamed Ohmar in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The rooftop of the sleeping quarters he is standing on is fortified with at least ten feet of earth on top, which covers a reinforced concrete ceiling and walls at least four feet thick. Ohmar's bedroom is protected beneath.

 

BlogAfghan47

Muhib Ullah, 25, lights a cigarette in the bedroom of former Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohamed Ohmar, February 2, 2002. Located inside Omar's huge compound, on the outskirts of Kandahar, this is the bed that Omar slept in during his rule. The walls of his bedroom are four feet thick. Ullah has been put in charge of the compound by the new interm Afghan Chairman Hamid Karzai, through family ties.  

 

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A dishevelled girl at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Refugee camp on the main road in Spin Boldak, Afghanistan, is one of millions of children worldwide who could benefit greatly if the developed world sacrificed a tiny fraction of their wealth, Oxfam says. 

 

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Villagers on the outskirts of Zurmat, a 3 hours drive south of Kabul, watch as U.S. air bombers try to flush out Taliban strongholds in a mountain region on the outskirts of Zurmat. 

 

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A well digger, standing beside a primitive bucket hoist, pauses as a B-52 bomber flies overhead, releasing bombs on a mountian range outside of Zurmat, Afghanistan.

 

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Barely visible, the contrails of a B-52 bomber slices through the sky as it unleashes its payload on a mountain range near Zurmat, Afghanistan.

 

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Birdman of Kandahar Mohammed Ismail, 55, holds one of the doves he sells at the bird market in Kandahar, Afghanistan, January 31, 2002.

 

Further investigation on the attack, by Washington reporter Peter Baker, revealed yet another sinister plot directed at us. Read his article here. Following many years of complicated surgeries, Kathleen and her husband now reside in the U.S. and can be found at their website here.

 

STAR_2002-03-06_NE01blog

 

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