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Taliban insurgents have stepped up suicide attacks and bombings this month in what they are calling a "Spring Offensive", striking targets all over Afghanistan. Insider attacks on NATO and Afghan National Army forces have declined, possibly due to new "guardian angel" tactics, where soldiers are designated to provide security during training and oversight missions. I'd also like to take a moment to direct your attention to Ben Anderson's Afghanistan documentary on VICE.com, What Winning Looks Like. If you're at all interested in what the situation is like in Afghanistan right now, this documentary is well worth the time, showing the good, bad, and ugly sides of the war as we approach the 2014 withdrawal deadline. The photos below are show scenes from this conflict over the past month, part of the ongoing series here on Afghanistan. A U.S. soldier arrives on the scene where a suicide car bomber attacked a NATO convoy in Kabul, on May 16, 2013. A Muslim militant group, Hizb-e-Islami, claimed responsibility for the early morning attack, killing many in the explosion and wounding tens, police and hospital officials said. Afghan air force 2nd Lt. Niloofar Rhmani walks the flight line at Shindand Air Base, Afghanistan, prior to her graduation from undergraduate pilot training, on May 13, 2013. Rhmani made history on May 14, when she became the first female to successfully complete undergraduate pilot training and earn the status of pilot in more than 30 years. She will continue her service as she joins the Kabul Air Wing as a Cessna 208 pilot. Marine Sgt. Ross Gundlach, of Madison, Wisconsin, gets a kiss from Casey, a four-year-old yellow labrador that he worked with while deployed in Afghanistan, as the two are reunited during a surprise ceremony, on May 17, 2013, at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. Gundlach thought he was traveling to the Iowa Capitol to tell state officials why he should take ownership of the dog, which has been working for the state fire marshal's office. Gundlach didn't realize officials already had made arrangements to get another dog for explosives detection.

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view Afghanistan: May 2013 as presented by: The Atlantic


Last month, reports surfaced, later confirmed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has been delivering bags of cash to Karzai for a decade, in part to buy continued access and cooperation during the war. The New York Times reported that the payments had not resulted in the influence the CIA sought, and had instead fueled corruption and empowered warlords. A further report by the U.N. stated that opium cultivation across Afghanistan had increased for the third year in a row. As Western troops continue the long process of preparing for their December 2014 withdrawal, evidence of significant progress in Afghanistan remains elusive. The photos below are just a glimpse of this conflict over the past month, part of the ongoing series here on Afghanistan. An Afghan woman in a burqa walks along a road on a windy day on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, on April 16, 2013. Afghans at the Karte Sakhi cemetery on the foot of Karte Sakhi's Shrine in the foothills of TV Mountain in Kabul, on April 26, 2013. The shrine is the second most sacred place of Shia worship in Afghanistan. A U.S. Black Hawk helicopter arrives, after a NATO helicopter crashed killing two American service members in a field near Gerakhel, eastern Afghanistan, on April 9, 2013. The U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force said the cause of the crash is under investigation but initial reporting indicates there was no enemy activity in the area at the time.

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view Afghanistan: April 2013 as presented by: The Atlantic


After the end of the surge, and with France accelerating its troop withdrawal, the number of NATO forces in Afghanistan is beginning to drop. Fewer than 70,000 American troops remain in the country now, and the Afghan National Army has grown to nearly 200,000 soldiers. However, the desertion and attrition rates among Afghan soldiers is extremely high, jeopardizing the future of the current government as NATO heads toward its drawdown in 2014. The current war in Afghanistan has become a political talking point in the presidential election, yet there are hundreds of thousands for whom it is part of daily life, and has been for more than a decade. These photos show just a glimpse of that experience over the past month, part of the ongoing series here on Afghanistan. A soldier from 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment (The Vikings) stands to attention as his regiment receives their Afghanistan Operational Service Medal at Picton Barracks in Bulford, England, on November 1, 2012. The parade was the first in a series of events marking the end of their successful six-month deployment to Afghanistan as part of Task Force Helmand. The parade comes during the same week that two more British soldiers were shot dead at a checkpoint in Afghanistan by a man wearing a local police uniform. An Alaska Air National Guardsman embraces his son on the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson flightline after returning from Afghanistan. Thirty citizen-Airmen of the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Wing arrived in Alaska on October 17 after deploying this May in support of combat search and rescue.

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view Afghanistan: October 2012 as presented by: The Atlantic


In the month of September 2012, the United States completed its withdrawal of the 33,000 troops deployed to Afghanistan in the "surge" of 2009. However, the U.S. still has 86,000 troops engaged in Operation Enduring Freedom, even as some coalition members are now finishing up their deployments. Also this month, coalition troops have curtailed joint operations with Afghan Army and police forces, due to increased attacks on foreign soldiers by members of the Afghan forces -- and heightened tensions resulting from widespread anger over an anti-Islam movie produced in the U.S. Gathered here are images of those involved in this conflict over the past month, as part of the ongoing series here on Afghanistan. Dust kicks off the ground during an operation by US Army soldiers attached to the 2nd platoon, C-Coy. 1-23 Infantry based at Zangabad foward operating base in Panjwai district after an A-POBS detonation on a nearby road during a dawn operation, on September 23, 2012. Haley Leonard holds on to her father, SFC Kyle Leonard, after he arrived at a homecoming ceremony with his unit, the 713th Engineer Company of the Indiana Army National Guard, at the Army Aviation Support Facility in Gary, Indiana, on September 26, 2012. The 713th Engineers were returning from a deployment in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. Six soldiers from the unit were killed during the deployment. Spc. Sarah Sutphin removes her new body armor after training on a firing range on September 18, 2012, in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Female soldiers from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division are field testing the first Army body armor designed to fit women's physiques in preparation for their deployment to Afghanistan this fall.

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view Afghanistan, September 2012: The End of the Surge as presented by: The Atlantic


The War in Afghanistan began on October 7, 2001 as the armed forces of the United States of America and the United Kingdom, and the Afghan United Front (Northern Alliance), launched Operation Enduring Freedom, invading the country, in response to the September 11 attacks on the United States, with the stated goal of dismantling the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization and ending its use of Afghanistan as a base. The United States also said that it would remove the Taliban regime from power and create a viable democratic state. 10 Years of the war has resulted in thousands of adead soldiers, thousands of dead Taliban and thousands of dead civilians and the job is still not done. A Canadian soldier of India Company from the NATO-led coalition smokes during a lull in fighting against Taliban insurgents in Sangasar, Zari district in eastern Afghanistan, July 3, 2007. Canadian and Afghan National Army troops engaged Taliban fighters in Sangasar, killing at least two and capturing two more wounded fighters, a Canadian army official said on Tuesday. A soldier with an injured ankle from the US Army's 1-320 Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division is assisted past his burning M-ATV armored vehicle after it struck an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) on a road near Combat Outpost Nolen in the Arghandab Valley in this picture taken July 23, 2010. None of the four soldiers in the vehicle were seriously injured in the explosion. Picture taken July 23, 2010. Anti-Taliban Afghan fighters watch several explosions from U.S. bombings in the Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan December 16, 2001. Hundreds of al Qaeda fighters have battled to the death in a last stand in eastern Afghanistan, but their leader Osama bin Laden eluded the U.S. dragnet, Afghan commanders said on Sunday.

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view 10 Years Of War In Afghanistan as presented by: Totally Cool Pix


Tribal elders say the Taliban are far from defeated. The Taliban continue to wage a brutal war, taking a toll on Afghan citizens and American forces. The Department of Defense has identified 1,761 American service members who have died in the Afghan war and related operations as of Sept. 21, about 10 years since the start of the war. In visiting Afghanistan monthly in The Big Picture, we try to reflect our troops presence in the country as well as their interaction with the Afghan people. Sergeant Daniel Chavez, an Army flight medic from Rio Rancho, N.M., hold his gun aloft as fellow medic Specialist David Bibb, from Santa Fe, waves an American flag as they commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks at Forward Operating Base Edi in the Helmand province of southern Afghanistan on Sept 11. The United States, which had largely pulled out of Kunar province, has recently moved troops, including the 27th Infantry Regiment, back in as part of an effort to take the battle to Taliban strongholds. The mountainous region of Kunar borders Pakistan and is often a transit point for Taliban between the countries. US army Pfc Kyler King gets his head shaved by Pfc Shawn Riggins in the FOB Kuschamond. Of 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan, 33,000 will leave by mid-2012.

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view Afghanistan, September 2011 as presented by: Boston Big Picture


In the month of July, 54 coalition soldiers were killed in Afghanistan, including 32 Americans. This was as the United States began drawing down its forces, with some 10,000 U.S. troops due to pull out by the end of the year. Currently, the U.S. has some 150,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan. This month also saw an escalation in recent assassinations claimed by the Taliban, as both the mayor of Kandahar and President Hamid Karzai's half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, were killed. The assassinations and continued suicide attacks are heightening uncertainty in the face of troop withdrawals, despite assurances from both coalition and Afghan officials. Gathered here are images from the ongoing conflict over the past 31 days, part of an ongoing monthly series on Afghanistan. A V-22 Osprey carries an external load at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, on July 18, 2011. While attaching the load, the Osprey was hovering less than ten feet above the heads of the LS Marines, who were attaching the load in support of Exercise Mojave Viper as they prepare to deploy to Afghanistan later this year. Master Sgt. Todd Eipperle, of Marshalltown, Iowa, salutes the casket at the end of funeral services for Iowa National Guard soldier Sgt. 1st Class Terryl L. Pasker, at the River of Life Ministries, on July 18, 2011, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The Guard says Pasker, 39, of Cedar Rapids, was killed during combat operations July 9 in Panjshir Province, Afghanistan. Eipperle, a master sergeant in the Iowa National Guard, was injured in the same attack. Members of the Third Platoon, Bravo Battery of the Automatic Battalion, 2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery Regiment, light up the Zabul province night firing their M777A2 howitzer at suspected enemy movements from Forward Operating Base Pasab, Zharay District, Zabul province, Afghanistan, on July 20, 2011.

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view Afghanistan: July 2011 as presented by: The Atlantic


Last week, after a decade of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, President Obama announced a plan to begin withdrawing thousands of U.S. troops from the country this year. The war has been expensive -- a Brown University research project released Wednesday estimates the total cost of the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq at nearly $4 trillion (a figure that includes the ongoing cost of veterans' care). The human cost is more difficult to quantify, as more than 2,500 coalition troops (1,644 of them American) have now been killed, and civilian casualties are estimated at well over 100,000. Canadian combat operations in Afghanistan will end in July, as troops withdraw from the southern region and hand control over to U.S. forces. Just yesterday, a group of nine Taliban suicide attackers stormed a major hotel in Kabul that was popular with foreigners, killing 21 and raising fears of what may come as foreign troops depart the country. Some of the losing candidates in the September 2010 Afghanistan election, gather for a meeting organized for the disaffected losing contestants who have now been declared winners following a special investigative tribunal investigating alleged voting irregularities, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday June 26, 2011. There are 62 members of parliament who are alleged to have committed voting irregularities and fraud but who now refuse to leave parliament, creating an impasse for these candidates who are now unable to take their seat in the parliament. Foreign soldiers leave the Intercontinental Hotel at the end of a military operation against Taliban militants who had stormed the hotel in Kabul, on June 29, 2011. Taliban suicide bombers and gunmen attacked the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul sparking a five-hour battle with Afghan commandos backed by a NATO helicopter gunship in an assault that left at least 10 people dead. Amy Balduf, of Richmond, Tennessee, is comforted by a Marine at the graveside of her husband, U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Kevin Balduf, who was killed serving in Afghanistan, at Arlington National Cemetery, on Wednesday, June 15, 2011, in Arlington, Virginia.

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view Afghanistan: June 2011 as presented by: The Atlantic


Today is Memorial Day in the United States, a day set aside to remember and honor those who have died in military service. It's now been almost a decade since the start of the current war in Afghanistan, during which nearly 1,600 U.S. service members and nearly 1,000 other coalition troops have given their lives -- more than 50 in the past month alone. Tens of thousands of insurgents and civilians have also died in the struggle for control over this vast, complex, and war-weary nation. The Obama administration meanwhile appears to remain committed to begin drawing down U.S. troops in July, aiming for a full withdrawal by 2014. Gathered here are images from the conflict over the past month. This post is part of an ongoing monthly series on Afghanistan. Lydia Soren, mother of Marine Lance Cpl. Joe Jackson, cries as she holds one of the flags that draped Jackson's casket, on Wednesday, May 4, 2011, at Jackson's burial service in Yakima, Washington. Jackson, 22, of White Swan, Washington, died on April 24, while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. A member of a U.S. Marine honor guard folds a flag at the burial service for Marine Lance Cpl. Joe Jackson, Wednesday, May 4, 2011, in Yakima, Washington. Jackson, 22, of White Swan, Washington, died on April 24 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Kiki Harris of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, visits the grave of her twin brother, Navy Seal Joshua Thomas Harris, who died serving in Afghanistan in 2008, as American flags on each headstone at Arlington National Cemetery in preparation for Memorial Day, in Arlington, Virginia, on Thursday, May 26, 2011.

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view A Memorial Day Look at Afghanistan: May 2011 as presented by: The Atlantic


The month of May in Afghanistan opened with news of US Navy SEALs killing Osama bin Laden. Suicide bombings claimed lives throughout the country, one injuring the top German commander. Another outside the Italian military base in Herat west of Kabul killed at least five. As the month closed, President Hamid Karzai issued vague warnings against Western airstrikes that cause civilian casualties. Gathered here in our monthly collection from Afghanistan are images of the US military mission and daily life in the country of just under 30 million people. A U.S. Navy combat critical care nurse cares for a wounded Afghan Army soldier who was suffering from stab wounds, on a medevac helicopter from the U.S. Army's Task Force Lift "Dust Off", Charlie Company 1-214 Aviation Regiment north of Forward Operating Base Edi, in the volatile Helmand Province of southern Afghanistan May 15, 2011. An Afghan policeman looks on as he stands guard in Kote Tazagul area in Marjah district in Helmand Province on May 24, 2011. US lawmakers saw momentum for political reconciliation in Afghanistan in the wake of Osama bin Laden's death, but voiced fear that the fight against extremism was floundering in Pakistan. Burqa-clad Afghan women walk through a graveyard in the old section of Kabul on May 25, 2011. Despite massive injections of foreign aid since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan remains desperately poor with some of the lowest living standards in the world.

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view Afghanistan, May 2011 as presented by: Boston Big Picture


Life expectancy in Afghanistan is but 45 years. It has the world's second-highest infant mortality rate. Only 12% of Afghan women are literate. It is the world's largest producer of opium. Soon it will have been occupied by foreign militaries for ten years, which followed years of Taliban rule, which followed years of civil war, which followed years of Soviet military occupation. Widespread corruption mutes hopes for the immediate future. The death of Osama bin Laden further clouds future American involvement in the country. Gathered here in our monthly collection of photographs from Afghanistan are images of the U.S. military mission, the toll of violence on civilians, and daily life in the country of just under 30 million. An Afghan girl practices the martial arts with a sword at a Wushu training club in Injil, Herat province, west of Kabul, April 6. Afghan children play on an amusement ride in Kabul April 17. Village elder Haji Amir Mohammad Agha presents a rose to U.S. Army Spc Charli Johnson during a visit by Afghan and U.S. soldiers in Jelawar in the Arghandab Valley north of Kandahar April 18.

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view Afghanistan, April 2011 as presented by: Boston Big Picture


Every month in the Big Picture, we revisit Afghanistan, to see the people, to see our troops and troops from other nations, to get a sense of the country. President Hamid Karzai said recently his security forces will soon take charge of securing seven areas around Afghanistan, the first step toward his goal of having the Afghan police and soldiers protecting the entire nation by the end of 2014. Our troops are due to begin coming home this July. There is still work to be done. Many of the photos featured in this post show the celebration of the Afghan New Year. The festival to celebrate new year's starts on March 21 and is celebrated in Turkey, Central Asian republics, Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, as well as war-torn Afghanistan and it coincides with the astronomical vernal equinox. One of the most popular places to bring in the new year, Mazar-i Sharif, attracts hundreds of thousands of Afghans. Afghan children play as they eat ice lollies in Kabul on March 21, the Afghan New Year. Marine Lance Corporal Shawnee Redbear plays with an Afghan toddler during a patrol in Basabad, Helmand province, on March 9. Redbear is part of a program to increase interactions with Afghan civilians, specifically women and children. Afghans carry balloons to sell, as they walk toward the Sakhi Shrine for new year's ceremonies in Kabul.

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view Afghanistan, March 2011 as presented by: Boston Big Picture


Every month, I dedicate a post to the continuing conflict in Afghanistan. In this installment, I'm happy to share a distinctive set of panoramic images by photographer Louie Palu. These were tricky to get. "With the growing threat of targeted attacks against journalists and their Afghan fixers [guides and translators] in many of the areas I wanted to visit, using a camera openly was too dangerous -- so I had to come up with an invisible way of taking photos," Palu explains. That meant being able to hide his equipment on his body: "I began using a super-wide panoramic camera, which allowed me to photograph scenes with the camera wrapped in a scarf or hidden under my arm. The lens has a small motor in it that starts at one side and revolves 120 degrees to capture a cinematic view of what I was seeing. The resulting pictures, shot on black-and-white film, are sometimes-distorted, long-and-narrow panoramas, but they also capture the environment in an unguarded and authentic way." In 2010, Palu was awarded a grant from the Alexia Foundation for his project on Kandahar. These photographs were taken during 2009-10 in Kandahar's Zhari, Panjwaii, Spin Boldak, and Maiwand Districts, Kandahar City, Nimruz and Farah Provinces. US Marines from the 2nd MEB of the 2/3 Marines patrol the mountains of the Black Pass after fighting the previous night on September 09, 2009.

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view Afghanistan in Panorama, March 2011 as presented by: The Atlantic


The buildup of forces in Afghanistan is complete, with the number of US troops there the highest yet. The surge is part of President Obama’s campaign to take the battle to the Taliban strongholds in the south and east, while accelerating training of Afghan security forces. In February, suicide attacks by militants increased, and villagers and Afghan officials accused NATO of killing a large number of civilians in airstrikes. The images in this month's post show Afghans and NATO-led soldiers working and living through moments of sheer terror and numbing poverty. Through the strife, we see glimpses of the enduring human spirit. An Afghan army recruit marches during a graduation parade after an oath ceremony at Ghazi military training center in Kabul Feb. 3. Strengthening the abilities of Afghan forces to secure their country has been a top goal of US policy. Pakistani police officials and firefighters battle flames that erupted from the wreckage of NATO oil tankers on Feb. 26 in Peshawar. The blast from a timed device struck a day after two dozen militants attacked the compound. Afghan National Army soldiers rest between operations at Kunjak in Afghanistan's Helmand province on Feb. 19.

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view Afghanistan February 2011 as presented by: Boston Big Picture


President Obama recently spoke about the War in Afghanistan in his State of the Union address: “Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency. There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance. But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them. This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead. And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home.” With this post, we continue the monthly look at the men and women who live and fight in the country and at the Afghan people themselves as they struggle for peace in their land. At the end of the regular post I've included 14 additional images by Associated Press photographer Kevin Frayer. The images are black and white aerials - a unique view - of Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan. Sergeant Darryl McKinstry, a medic, runs toward a Marine wounded by an improvised explosive device before moving him to a medevac helicopter in southern Helmand Province, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Jan. 26. Such devices, essentially homemade bombs, are the biggest killer of US soldiers in Afghanistan. Suspected Taliban fighters stand at a police station in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, on Jan. 26. Eleven Taliban fighters were arrested by Afghan police in a recent operation. A man runs through a burning supermarket on Jan. 28 in central Kabul after an explosion rocked the store frequented by foreigners. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed nine people, and said it was aimed at an executive of the Blackwater private security firm. Workers of the firm were nearby but uninjured. The company was singled out because “they are invaders, and secondly, they are protecting the invaders,” said a Taliban spokesman.

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view Afghanistan, January 2011 as presented by: Boston Big Picture


2010 has been the deadliest year yet for coalition troops in Afghanistan, with 709 troops killed, 497 of those from the U.S. American officials have spoken of a fragile progress, with a possible small drawdown of troops starting next summer, keeping 2014 as the goal date for Afghans to take control. The United Nations released a report saying that more than 2,400 Afghan civilians were killed and more than 3,800 injured in the first 10 months of 2010, with 76% of these casualties being caused by "anti-government elements". The report also shows deaths and injuries caused by "pro-government forces" (U.S. and NATO troops, Afghan army and police) accounted for 12% of civilian casualties, an 18% drop from the same time period last year. Collected here are images of the country and conflict over the past month, part of an ongoing monthly series on Afghanistan. Brig. Gen. William "Tim" Crosby presents a flag to Kitaira Jarvis, 11, daughter of Army Sgt. Barry Jarvis, 36, at Deer Creek Baptist Church in Tell City, Indiana on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010. Jarvis, a member of the 101st Airborne Division in Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, was one of six soldiers killed on Nov. 29 in Afghanistan when a rogue Afghan border policeman turned his gun on his American trainers as the group headed to shooting practice. Spc. Charles Moore, left, of Angleton, Texas, along with Spc Andrew Vanderhaeghen of Rochester, Minnesota, of 2nd Platoon Bravo Company 2-327 return fire upon a sudden attack by Taliban on Combat Outpost Badel in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border on Christmas Day, Saturday, Dec 25, 2010. Door Gunner Petty Officer Richard Symonds of the Royal Navy wears a Santa Claus outfit as he delivers mail and presents to troops around Helmand province.

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view Afghanistan, December, 2010 as presented by: Boston Big Picture


Saturday, November 27th marked a milestone in Afghanistan - after that day passed, the United States and its allies have now been in Afghanistan longer than the Soviet Union had been when it withdrew in 1989. Recent announcements by the U.S. appear to show that it plans to remain at least another four years. In the south, U.S. forces are increasingly encountering abandoned buildings that are heavily booby-trapped as they pursue the Taliban, leading them to systematically destroy the structures. Arghandab district governor Shah Muhammed Ahmadi said "In some villages where only a few houses were contaminated by bombs, we called the owners and got their agreement to destroy them, In some villages like Khosrow that were completely empty and full of IED's, we destroyed them without agreement because it was hard to find the people - and not just Khosrow, but many villages. We had to destroy them to make them safe." Collected here are images of the country and conflict over the past month, part of an ongoing monthly series on Afghanistan. President Barack Obama presents the Medal of Honor to Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, who rescued two members of his squad in October 2007 while fighting in the war in Afghanistan, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2010, at the White House in Washington, D.C. US soldiers of the 502nd Infantry regiment 2nd Battalion Charger company blow up a wall of a compound around Kop Ahmed camp near Kandahar city. Crowds laugh, sing and cheer as they wait for the music to start November 19, 2010 in Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan. Thousands of fans flocked to the city of Lashkar Gah for one of the biggest musical events ever known in Afghanistan. The city's Karzai Stadium played host to a concert by world-famous Afghan musician Farhad Darya, dubbed the 'Afghan Elvis', an event that could never have taken place under the regime of the music-hating Taliban.

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view Afghanistan, November, 2010 as presented by: Boston Big Picture


With the U.S. troop surge now nearing its peak in Afghanistan, more than 150,000 US and international troops are now on the ground. 64 of those troops lost their lives this month, as forces pushed hard into the southern Kandahar Province, traditionally the heartland of the Taliban. At the same time, preliminary discussions are beginning to take place between the inner circle of President Hamid Karzai and members of the Quetta shura, the leadership group that oversees the Taliban war effort inside Afghanistan. Part of the current coalition strategy is to continue applying pressure on the Taliban in the fields, and encouraging their leaders to participate in hoped-for settlement talks. Collected here are images of the country and conflict over the past month, part of an ongoing monthly series on Afghanistan. Afghan firemen hose down a burning oil tanker after an explosive device planted underneath it exploded, on the Jalalabad-Torkham highway, east of Kabul. Chief of Defense of the Swedish Armed Forces, General Sverker Göranson, place the Medal of Honor on the coffin of Kenneth Wallin, killed in action on an ISAF mission in Mazar-i Sharif in Afghanistan on Saturday, during a ceremony at Arna military airport north of Stockholm, Tuesday Oct. 19, 2010. Wallin was the 6th Swedish soldier killed in action in Afghanistan. Sgt. Thomas James Brennan of Randolph, Massachusetts, from the First Battalion Eighth Marines Alpha Company, smokes a cigarette in his bunk surrounded by photographs of his wife Melinda and their daughter Madison, 2, after a night of rain at the remote outpost of Kunjak in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province.

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view Afghanistan, October, 2010 as presented by: Boston Big Picture


James Lee's simple plan fell apart in the winter of 2007. The former Marine, who served two tours of duty in Iraq, had moved to rural Independence near Bishop, Calif. Lee was trying to control his wanderlust by living the simple life of a construction worker. His plan dissolved when he happened on a magazine article written by mountain climber turned war correspondent, Ed Darak. "I was never going to stay in Independence long enough to enjoy a simple life," Lee said, "I accepted this fact while reading [the article]." He was 37 years old. "I sold my house and purchased my first camera." Lee said. By January, he was back in Iraq. This time, instead of carrying a gun, the veteran of the Battle of Fallujah was carrying a camera and a notebook. Lee had always gravitated toward Afghanistan. Early in 2010, he embedded with the Afghan Security Forces. He traveled to four provinces in four months. Instead of covering the American mission in Afghanistan as most photojournalists were doing, Lee said he wanted to cover the Afghan people. "If I can't tell the story from the perspective of the Afghans, I don't want to tell the story," he said. And just as he chose a non-traditional path for covering the war in Afghanistan, Lee has also avoided the traditional path to documentary photography. Lee has no formal training in photojournalism. By choice, he remains disconnected from the professional photography world so his images won't look like traditional documentary photography. "It's not about the technique of the camera, it's about the story you're telling," Lee said.

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view James Lee in Afghanistan as presented by: Sacramento Bee


With four months left in the year, 2010 is already the deadliest year yet for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. 321 have been killed so far (out of 485 total coalition deaths), compared with 313 deaths in all of 2009. As coalition troop size has increased, and moves have been made into Taliban strongholds, attacks are on the rise, and, according to General David Petraeus, "the footprint of the Taliban has spread". As combat operations in Iraq have now ended, the Obama administration says it will focus even more of its attention on the nearly 9-year-old conflict in Afghanistan. Collected here are images of the country and conflict over the past month, part of an ongoing monthly series on Afghanistan. This month marks the 12th entry in the series - I've been putting these together for one year now, and see no reason to stop any time soon. Abdul Qahar, an interpreter with Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, finds one of the few shaded spots during Operation Big Wave in Khanagawr, Afghanistan, Aug. 18, 2010. During the operation the men spent two days in direct sunlight with temperatures reaching more than 120 degrees. The operation was conducted to disrupt the enemy from using supply lines to bring weapons and fighters into Nawa. Cpl Ryan Belgrave with the Canadian Army's 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group, walks through a field of marijuana plants during a patrol near the village of Salavat, in the Panjway district west of Kandahar. A medevac UH-60A Black Hawk helicopter from the 101st Airborne division, Task Force Destiny, is reflected in the glasses of a ground staff member during a refueling operation at Kandahar Air Field (KAF) in Kandahar province.

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view Afghanistan, August, 2010 as presented by: Boston Big Picture


For the past seven years, David Guttenfelder has witnessed and documented the changing landscape of Afghanistan. Although mostly embedded with coalition troops, he has also covered the presidential elections, bodybuilders in Kabul, the state of Afghan prisons and daily life in the country. Guttenfelder is the chief Asia photographer for The Associated Press and over the past seven years has offered the general public a close-up, intimate look at the lives of troops fighting in the mountains and remote regions of Afghanistan. U.S. Marines from the 2nd MEB, 1st Battalion 5th Marines move in formation through farm fields after landing by helicopter in an overnight night air assault near the Taliban stronghold of Nawa in Afghanistan's Helmand province Thursday July 2, 2009. Thousands of U.S. Marines poured from helicopters and armored vehicles into Taliban-controlled villages of southern Afghanistan Thursday in the first major operation under President Barack Obama's strategy to stabilize the country. A U.S. Army vehicle fires on Taliban positions on a mountain side, outside a base held by the Army's 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division in the Pech River Valley of Afghanistan's Kunar province. Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, one with the names of fallen colleagues tattooed on his back, bathe at a forward operating base in southern Afghanistan Saturday, April 26, 2008. Some 3,500 U.S. Marines arrived in Afghanistan to help NATO's increasingly bloody fight against the Taliban.

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view Captured Collection: David Guttenfelder in Afghanistan as presented by: Denver Post


This past month, much of the attention focused on Afghanistan centered on the release of thousands of classified documents from the war effort by WikiLeaks. While the consensus appears to be that nothing significantly new was revealed by the release, the picture painted by the documents remains rather bleak. NATO and the United States now have 143,000 troops in Afghanistan, set to peak at 150,000 in coming weeks as they take a counter-insurgency offensive into the insurgents' southern strongholds. Taliban control remains difficult to dislodge, and once removed from an area, Taliban forces often return once larger forces leave a region, especially in rural areas where local government presence remains small. Collected here are images of the country and conflict over the past month, part of an ongoing monthly series on Afghanistan. Master Sgt. Todd Nelson sits for Dr. Joe Villalobos as he makes adjustments to a prosthetic ear at Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. An Afghan girl who fixes potholes in a road between Kabul and Bagram and depends on tips from passing motorists, waits for vehicles in Afghanistan. Sgt. Christopher Duke and wife Lauren Duke greet Rufus at PetAirways on Thursday, July 29, 2010, in Atlanta, Georgia. Rufus and two other dogs saved Duke's and other soldiers' lives while serving in Afghanistan when on the evening of Feb. 11, 2010, the dogs attacked a suicide bomber trying to enter their barracks, forcing the bomber to detonate his explosives in the entry corridor. Though five of the 50 soldiers present sustained injuries, none died that night thanks to the three dogs. One of the dogs was killed, the other two later recovered from their injuries. Sgt. Duke wrote to a veterans assistance group called "Hope for the Warriors" asking for the dogs to be brought to the United States, and $21,000 was raised in less than 3 months enabling the dogs to leave Afghanistan.

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view Afghanistan, July, 2010 as presented by: Boston Big Picture


In Afghanistan -- as in military conflicts going back centuries -- dogs play myriad roles, from companions and pets to scouts and, increasingly, living, breathing land mine and IED (improvised explosive device) detectors. Sgt. John Barton of the 4th Brigade of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division greets his platoon's pet dog, Ray-Ray, at combat outpost Impala in Bala Murghab, Afghanistan. Corporal Dave Heyhoe, of the British Army Theatre Military Working Dog Support Unit, and his dog Treo and Royal Army Veterinary Corp Lance Cpl. Marianne Hay, and her arms and explosive search dog, Leanna, rest in the village of Segera, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. Marines of 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, give cereal to a stray puppy in northern Marjah, Helmand province, southern Afghanistan.

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view Afghanistan: Dogs of War as presented by: Life Magazine


Chris Hondros has been covering international conflicts since the late 1990s. Hondros spent years photographing the Iraq War and its consequences for both U.S. military personnel and Iraqi civilians. In Afghanistan, he has spent years accompanying troops on missions, documenting U.S. military hospitals in Afghanistan and the people who live in the regions of conflict. Here is a collection of Hondros’ photographs from late 2009 to the present. Pfc. Kendall Travis of Spartenburg, South Carolina with the 3/509 of the US Army's 25th Infantry Division patrols October 8, 2009 in Dabay, Afghanistan. Dabay, a desperately poor agrarian ethnic Pashtun village, sits about 10 miles from the border of Pakistan in Afghanistan's rugged mountains, and American soldiers based at Combat Outpost Zerok nearby frequently patrol the area, looking for militants who often travel over from Pakistan on ancient trails through the mountains. A soldier with the 1-71 Cavalry sits in a field of cannabis plants while on patrol June 9, 2010 in the village of Zor Mashur, south of Kandahar, Afghanistan. Cannabis produces the hashish drug that is popular in Afghanistan, where alchohol is banned. Soldiers of the 1st Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division have fanned out in the vast hinterlands south of Kandahar, part of a counterinsurgency strategy aimed at protecting Afghan civilians and legitimizing the government of Afghanistan in the minds of the rural local populace. American, Canadian and Afghan Police vehicles sit nearby as a Canadian bomb team explodes a roadside bomb found in the path of a joint patrol of Afghan Police and the US Army's 293th Military Police October 22, 2009 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. A joint US-Afghan patrol on a contentious hillside on the edge of Kandahar came under fire by suspected Taliban militants holed up nearby, who also set a roadside bomb that the US forces detected and defused.

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view Captured: Chris Hondros in Afghanistan as presented by: Denver Post


This month has been the deadliest month yet for foreign troops in Afghanistan. The U.S. Department of Defense now reports that one hundred coalition troops were killed this month. The death toll for 2010 to date now stands at 320. With soldiers and equipment still arriving in the country, peak troop strength is anticipated to reach 150,000 by August. And, with the removal of General Stanley McChrystal from command of Afghanistan following an embarrassing article in Rolling Stone magazine, a shift in leadership is underway with General David Petraeus attending confirmation hearings now. Efforts are now being made ot both weaken the Taliban and pressure them to reconcile with the Afghan government, but progress is slow, and many earlier gains are becoming unstable once more. Collected here are images of the country and conflict over the past month, part of an ongoing monthly series on Afghanistan. Two-year-old Faith Marie Adams reaches for one of the U.S. flags from her father, Army Spc. Christian M. Adams' coffin, during military honors ceremonies at the Main Post Chapel on Fort Huachuca, Arizona on Tuesday, June, 22, 2010. Christian Adams, stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, died in Afghanistan on June 11. A member of a US Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team stands at the entrance to a container wearing a bomb disposal suit prior to an exercise at Camp Nathan Smith in Kandahar City. Sgt. David Guthrie of Grimes, Iowa serving with the U.S. Army's 1-17 Cavalry smiles as he reads a letter that had just arrived from his family at Strongpoint Tarnak on June 14, 2010 in rural Dand District, just south of Kandahar, Afghanistan.

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view Afghanistan, June, 2010 as presented by: Boston Big Picture


America's Afghan and international allies embraced the choice of Gen. David Petraeus to run the war in Afghanistan, hoping the architect of the Iraq surge will seamlessly pursue the strategy laid down by his predecessor and smooth over divisions that led to his dismissal. Petraeus inherits myriad challenges. It is a difficult time for the military alliance in Afghanistan. At least 80 NATO soldiers have died so far in June, the most in a single month. On the ground in Afghanistan, Getty Images photographer Justin Sullivan brings us images from a Army medevac unit stationed in Kandahar. U.S. Army soldiers carry an injured man to a MEDEVAC helicopter on June 19, 2010 near Kandahar. .S. Army soldiers carry a critically wounded American soldier on a stretcher to an awaiting MEDEVAC helicopter from Charlie Co. Sixth Battalion, 101st Airborne Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Shadow June 24, 2010 near Kandahar, Afghanistan. As combat operations begin to escalate near Kandahar, the 101st Airborne MEDEVAC unit transports casualties of war as well as sick and injured local residents. U.S. Army Captain Erin Foley (L) and Major Jason Davis from Charlie Co. Sixth Battalion, 101st Airborne Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Shadow sit in their MEDEVAC helicopter while a wounded soldier is dropped off at the hospital June 23, 2010 in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

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Today is Memorial Day in the United States, a day set aside to honor our men and women who died while in military service since the time of U.S. Civil War. In Afghanistan over 50 U.S. soldiers have been killed in just the past month, including 24-year old Marine Cpl. Jacob Leicht, who became the 1,000th serviceman killed in Afghanistan since 2002. As the fighting season begins, Taliban militants have recently mounted several bold attacks and coalition efforts to "clear, hold and build" areas in the south have been slowed during the "hold" phase, as Afghan government capacity remains small. Collected here are images of the country and conflict over the past month, part of an ongoing monthly series on Afghanistan. An Afghan boy scurries past a burning oil tanker carrying fuel supplies for NATO forces after it was allegedly attacked by Taliban on Jalalabad highway, east of Kabul. Monica McNeal cries as she hugs a U.S. Marine at the grave of her 19-year-old son Eric Ward, at Arlington National Cemetery, May 27, 2010. Lance Corporal Eric Ward, a fourth-generation U.S. Marine, was killed in Afghanistan on February 21, 2010. A U.S. soldier monitors the area after taking off with Canadian troops from Kandahar airfield.

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view Afghanistan, May, 2010 as presented by: Boston Big Picture


Bodybuilding has grown into a very popular sport in Afghanistan in a country where men like the image of being physically strong. It is affordable for most Afghans and its popularity is growing in many provinces since the fall of the Taliban. Photos of Arnold Schwarzenegger are still hanging in many local gyms as their iconic image of a muscle bound male. In 2002 the first bodybuilding competitions resumed after the fall of the Taliban, enabling the men to shave and wear only their competition suits. Under the Taliban, bodybuilders were not allowed to train without being fully dressed in traditional Afghan clothing and the annual Mr. Afghanistan contest was banned as sportsmen were forbidden to appear partially naked in public. The competition, which takes place at an old cinema in the Shahr-e Naw section of Kabul, is the culmination of all body building events around the country and has a loyal all-male following. Under the Taliban, bodybuilders were not allowed to train without being fully dressed in traditional Afghan clothing and the annual Mr. Afghanistan contest was banned as sportsmen were forbidden to appear partially naked in public.

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view In Focus: Afghanistan Bodybuilders as presented by: Denver Post


A recent Pentagon report on the situation in Afghanistan over the past 6 months gives the impression that while things aren't necessarily getting any worse, they are far from improving. Afghan citizens, when polled, showed only limited support for their government, and a slight majority placed the blame for instability on Taliban forces. There remains a heavy reliance on international forces to provide security, training and equipment. As of March 31st, there were approximately 133,500 foreign troops on the ground in Afghanistan - 87,000 U.S. forces and 46,500 international forces. This month also saw the departure of a U.S. military presence from Afghanistan's notorious Korengal Valley, a small, isolated, patch of difficult terrain where 42 soldiers lost their lives over the past five years. NATO is calling the move a "realignment", focusing efforts on more-populated areas. Collected here are images of the country and conflict over the past month, part of an ongoing monthly series on Afghanistan. A mortar team from the U.S. Army's Centurion Company, 2-1 Infantry Battalion, 5/2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team fire a 60mm round from a hand-held tube outside Combat Outpost Terminator in Maiwand District, Kandahar Province. A CAT Scan shows the placement of a 14.5 millimeter high explosive incendiary round which was removed from the scalp of an Afghan National Army solder at the Craig Joint Theater Hospital, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, March 18, 2010. The injury was sustained during an improvised ordinance device attack. Trucks carrying supplies to coalition forces burn after hundreds of people blocked a main road and set them on fire to protest what they said were civilian deaths in NATO operations in Logar province, west of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, April 25, 2010. They gathered hours after NATO said coalition troops killed several insurgents and captured a Taliban sub-commander.

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view Afghanistan, April, 2010 as presented by: Boston Big Picture


Outside a bunker on March 20, 2010 in Marjah, Helmand province, southern Afghanistan Agence France-Presse photographer Mauricio Lima created a series of portraits illustrating the tattoos of the members of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines. Many United States Marines sport several tattoos, commonly to tell the story of their lives as soldiers, to vanquish their fears, honor their comrades or to proclaim their love. 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, Sergeant Paul Williams, 20, of Fostoria, Ohio, poses to show his tattoos, including two bull dogs (or "Devil Dogs", a nickname used by US Marines to address each other which was allegedly given to them by the Germans in the First World War), and lyrics from the Dire Straits song Brothers in Arms "Through these fields of destruction / baptisms of fire / I've witnessed all your suffering / as the battle raged higher", for a portrait at the entrance to a bunker at a base in Marjah, Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, on March 20, 2010.

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view On War: U.S. Marines Tattoos in Afghanistan as presented by: Denver Post



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