All Roads Lead to Kabul
Kabul’s population has tripled in size since late 2001, to approximately 4.5 million people, making it perhaps the world’s fastest-growing city in the last eight years. The growth has been fuelled by uncertainty perpetuated by a war seemingly with no end. The ravages on infrastructure, government capacity and local economies have all eroded or eliminated coping mechanisms in rural areas, prompting, even forcing, large-scale movement to Kabul. If there are any zoning laws in Kabul, they certainly are not evident in this image. The homes have no electricity nor water, but provide a basic shelter. When, not if, an earthquake strikes or torrential rains fall, the devastation will far exceed anything the war has wrought. 
Kabul Bus Stop
Even at a bus stop in cosmopolitan Kabul, a family will instinctively segregate by age and sex, as with this family: father left; sons centre; and lastly the wives, girls and children right. The daughter’s efforts to engage her male siblings are ignored. When the bus arrives, the family will get on in order of priority beginning with the father. No matter what the situation, this hierarchy will play itself out in all parts of the country. It will be many years, if not generations, before Afghan women see their social status appreciably improve.
Jama Masjid of Herat (Great Mosque of Herat)
Afghanistan has had many cultural, linguistic and architectural influences with the various Persian (Iranian) empires having a lasting effect on all three. This is one of the minarets from the Jama Masjid in Herat. The principal decorative element incorporating blue tiles is distinctively Persian. Though many of the glazed tiles have been replaced since the mosque was begun in the 13th century, the mosque was given its present form during the closing years of the 15th century and is Herat’s first congregational mosque. The Great Mosque is laid out in the traditional rectangular iwan pattern, with three walls and a huge central courtyard.
Beggar Woman, Kabul
This Afghan woman is waiting patiently outside a mosque in Kabul for Friday prayers to end, hoping that several of the worshippers will offer alms — charity being a basic tenet of Islam. With a burgeoning population and many homeless people in Kabul, this is not an uncommon sight and many of those who beg are handicapped. The burqa (the blue head-to-foot veil seen in the photo), also known as chadri or paranja in Central Asia, should indicate that a woman is underneath the garment. That is not always the case. Insurgents frequently use the burqa to disguise their activities and draw close to their intended targets. 
The Carpet Vendor - Khost
This is Hafez, a carpet vendor from Badakhshan province. His brother has a shop in Kabul, but Hafez was working in Khost province at one of the American bases offering carpets and other Afghan products to the soldiers and civilians. He made a very good income, though he liked to plead poverty to boost the price. He knew how to cultivate customers by frequently offering to prepare lunch of typical Afghan food, which was simple, but very tasty and made for a welcome change from canteen fare. Most of the large bases had some manner of bazaar.
Vendor's Cart, Kabul
The products on this cart would be as familiar to a traveller or trader on the Silk Road from centuries ago as they are to the shopper today. Central Asia and in particular, Afghanistan, have always been renowned for their fruits, dried fruits and nutmeats. A guest in any Afghan home or a visitor to any office will be offered unlimited quantities of green tea and dishes of sultanas and almonds — gestures of hospitality that are never shirked. Most, if not all, of these products are organic because farmers cannot afford either insecticide or fertilisers.
On the 8th Day . . .
Afghans have an expression that their land was made by God on the eighth day, with the bits and pieces left over from his previous labours. If so, what bits and pieces they were. What arable land exists is forgiving and can grow most crops − many valuable and suitable for export.  And, beneath the surface is a vast trove of mineral wealth. The potential for a prosperous nation is there and the know-how is available, but the resolve to overcome tribal and religious animosities is seemingly insurmountable. 
Khost Vallley - Springtime
This is an aerial shot taken from a U.S. Blackhawk heliocopter. The Khost Valley is mild in the winter and usually has a good supply of water throughout the year.  Khost was where the Afghan king wintered because of its temperate climate. The photo shows the layout of a qalat (traditional walled compound) with the fields green with winter wheat. Very likely each of the plots is individually owned, making cultivation and harvesting inefficient. As can be seen, cultivation also takes place within the qalat, which would allow the women of an extended family to tend the land because they would not be seen from behind the walls, thus assuring their modesty and privacy.
Western Afghanistan
This is a village just outside the city of Herat and was taken in 2003 when the drought had finally broken. The stark contrast of the barren mountains with the verdant fields of wheat is a common sight in this part of the country. When the rains and snow come as they should, Afghanistan is as fertile as any country in the world. Naan (bread) is a staple for all Afghans, so to be able to grow and harvest their own wheat is critical to the cultural and economic well being of the nation.
Wealth
In many parts of the world, wealth is measured by the number of livestock a family has. This is no less true in Afghanistan. Not only will animals provide meat, milk and wool, but in the case of a cow, labour to till the land. The conflicts and drought that plagued Afghanistan for many years wreaked havoc on its livestock populations. This young Afghan and his family have only the one cow, but it will be an economic resource for years to come and as soon as they are able, will add to their modest holding with goats and sheep.
Monochromatic Brown, But Green Through and Through
In the West, many people pride themselves on being "green" and environmentally conscious — in fact, whole industries are built around this desire. In rural Afghanistan, however, it is a way of life because alternatives do not exist. If this village were ever to be abandoned, in time it would simply return to the earth whence it came with nothing toxic left behind. The trees and shrubs are free of dust and the river high because it had recently rained.
Outside a Qalat
This is a common sight in any Afghan village. Donkeys remain important beasts of burden and roosters do more than keep the hens happy. Cockfighting, along with cricket and soccer, is one of Afghanistan's major pastimes. A lot of money changes hands during tournaments and the bird that doesn't come home as champion, comes home as dinner. 
Architecture and the Land
The use of mud brick as a construction material is ubiquitous throughout Afghanistan, but architectural styles will vary from region to region. In the east, rectangular walled compounds, known as qalats, dominate. But, in the northwest of the country, homes consist of attached, domed low-profile buildings that seem to reflect the gentle rolling hills they are nestled in. There might be a splash of colour on a window shutter, but these villages are monochromatic and well camouflaged into the surrounding environs. 
A Most Unusual Portrait
This group portrait of Afghan girls may seem ordinary, but it is evidence that there are some communities in Afghanistan which are moving ahead in recognition of the rights of the female. Why is this so? One, these girls are attending school; two, they are in school with boys (albeit in separate classrooms); three, they were allowed to be photographed; and four, the photographer was a male foreigner. In most villages, especially in the east of the country, girls are hidden behind qalat walls, but here was a community that seemed to appreciate the value of all its children receiving a basic education. Very likely a primary education is all the girls will enjoy, but is a start and where Afghanistan is concerned, sometimes baby steps are all that can be hoped for.
Dancing Boy
The dancing boys of Afghanistan are very controversial. Afghans will deny they exist, but who and what they are has been well documented. The controversy stems not from the dancing, which they are trained in and do perform, but from the sexual services they are forced to provide to the wealthy businessmen who purchase the boys from desperate, poverty-stricken families.  With so many problems besetting the country, this horrendous practise is likely to remain in the shadows for a long time, only generating outrage when the occasional documentary exposing the abuse reaches international audiences.
The Girl from Dwawa
It is said that those Afghans who have the brilliantly coloured eyes are the legacy of Alexander the Great's army passing through the region as he sought to conquer the world. This young girl may well be a testimony to that legacy. She is from the village of Dwawa and shows a maturity and modesty that belies her youth. Dwawa is very poor and very small, consisting of only eight families, all of whom have intermarried with one another. We came to this village because of rumours that the inhabitants were using unexploded ordnance to decorate their homes. The rumours were true and steps had to be taken to ensure they were safely removed. Unfortunately, the villagers saw these dangerous decorative elements as being chic. 
Donkey Spy
This village was reputed to be heavily infiltrated with Taliban fighters and sympathisers. The donkey sneaking a peek above the wall with his radar-like ears, was at once comical, but also a warning that others, not so harmless, were watching our movements with more sinister intentions.
Mine Victim
This man lost his right leg to a mine explosion during the Soviet occupation of the country. He now makes a good living seeking alms from passers-by on the main street in Herat, in western Afghanistan. 
Kabul International Airport — 2001
This is what greeted foreigners traveling to Afghanistan shortly after the Americans invaded. Landing at the airport and seeing the remnants of a once mighty commercial fleet was very disturbing. The planes were destroyed not by the Americans, but the various Afghan factions trying to take control of the country after the Soviets departed. These aeronautical corpses remained strewn about until they could first be demined. The airport has since been cleaned up and modernised. Arrivals and departures no longer make one's heart skip a beat.
On Parade
These are Afghan soldiers on parade celebrating Afghan independence day — 19 August — in Herat. At the time they were serving in Ismail Khan's personal militia. Not all Afghan soldiers were so disciplined or well dressed. At the time Ismail Khan was in power, he held his men to a higher standard than the national military. AK-47s are the weapon of choice in Afghanistan. 
The American Soldier
Young, baby-faced, but no less a fearsome warrior, this soldier represents the best that America has to offer. 
The Soldier's Creed
This sign, at the exit gate of one of the large American bases in eastern Afghanistan, displays an excerpt from the U.S. Soldiers creed, which is a standard by which all U.S. Army personnel are encouraged to live. These four lines from the creed represent the U.S. Army Warrior Ethos. 
Fallen Comrades
At any American base, no matter how small or large, if a soldier died in the line of duty, there was some form of memorial. This forward operating base in eastern Afghanistan had a brick wall with brass plaques. As of April, 2015, there were 2,357 American fatalities in Afghanistan. 
The Black Hawk Helicopter
The Black Hawk is the U.S. military's go-to tactical transport. It is a soldier's best friend and an insurgent's nightmare. This is a typical view. In addition to Afghanistan, the Black Hawk has been used in combat in Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Somalia, the Balkans and other areas in the Middle East. 
Life Will Find a Way
Common sights throughout the theatre of operations are razor wire and MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles. Neither seemed to bother this sunflower, which was the only splash of colour for miles around and probably the only thing that could be trusted.
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