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from Photographers' Blog:

The essence of war

By Umit Bektas

As the medical staff rushed to prepare the seriously wounded soldier for immediate surgery, I stood in one corner of the emergency room wondering how publishable the pictures I would take of this bloody and violent scene would be and what would be the benefit of it, if they were indeed published.

No photo of the soldier who lay there covered in blood and unconscious would ever be sufficient to express his agonizing pain. There was no way I could ever sum up the earlier life of this solider, the life which would never be the same again. I could never explain why this happened to him. I could never relay in a single frame what really happened to him and what purpose his injuries would serve. For some time I watched the medical staff working frantically around the soldier, making superhuman efforts to keep him alive. Their efforts would probably save a life. What would mine accomplish? What would I have achieved if in the middle of this bloody scene I succeeded in taking a photo appropriate to be printed in newspapers and people thousands of miles away would bring into their homes to look at. What photo or photos would ever help the soldier to regain his limbs which would likely be severed very soon. I happened to catch a glimpse of the soldier’s boots lying on the floor. As the soldier was wheeled into surgery after emergency first aid, and the commotion in the room died down, I approached the bloodied boots and snapped them.

It is now more than a month since I returned from my assignment as an embedded photographer with the U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Now, as I write this blog I am looking at that picture. I want to talk about what a pair of blood-soaked boots means to me; as a human being and as a photographer.

For a month I reported with photos from a number of different assignments the American troops were engaged in. But I admit the days I spent with the 628th Forward Surgical Team were the most trying. It is not only the issue of seeking a meaning and an outcome in what I witnessed that still occupies my mind - it is a problem of the essence of the whole thing.

from Photographers' Blog:

Are you ready for your embed?

By Umit Bektas

When I was informed of the date from which I was to be embedded with a U.S. military unit in Afghanistan, I luckily had enough time to prepare. I felt I had to plan everything before I left so I drew up a "to do" list. A major item on the list was the packing of my bags.

I knew I should carefully plan what I was to take. I knew I should travel light but at the same time have everything I would need on hand. Given the nature of the assignment and the conditions in Afghanistan, it would probably be impossible to secure anything I may have left behind. Fearing that my own list may be lacking some essentials, I contacted Kabul-based Ahmad Masood and other Reuters photographers who had been embedded before me. Masood, most likely the recipient of many such queries before, promptly sent back a comprehensive document he had prepared with a list of what I needed to take with me as well as other useful information. Along with other details from colleagues, I then knew exactly what I needed to take with me.

from Afghan Journal:

India-Afghan strategic pact:the beginnings of regional integration

A strategic partnership agreement between India and Afghanistan would ordinarily have evoked howls of protest from Pakistan which has long regarded its western neighbour as part of its sphere of influence.  Islamabad has, in the past, made no secret of its displeasure at India's role in Afghanistan including  a$2 billion aid effort that has won it goodwill among the Afghan  people, but which Pakistan sees as New Delhi's way to expand influence. 

Instead the reaction to the pact signed last month during President Hamid Karzai's visit to New Delhi, the first Kabul had done with any country, was decidedly muted. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani  said India and Afghanistan were "both sovereign countries and they have the right to do whatever they want to."  The Pakistani foreign office echoed Gilani's comments, adding only that regional stability should be preserved. It cried off further comment, saying it was studying the pact.

from Photographers' Blog:

A country a day with Hillary Clinton

By Kevin Lamarque

Traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, covering seven countries in seven days (Malta, Libya, Oman, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) was sure to present some challenges, but also offer some fresh perspectives. My usual beat, covering Obama at the White House and on his trips abroad, generally involves lots of pushing and shoving with other photographers behind velvet ropes or trying to get a clear photo through layers upon layers of secret service agents. I was welcoming a chance to be free of these constraints in the more low key State Department bubble.

I was the “pool” photographer on this trip, supplying my photos not only to Reuters but to AP and AFP as well. I was hoping that being the only wire photographer on the trip would give me better access and more spontaneous images.

from David Rohde:

Looking to Afghanistan’s future

As the 10th anniversary of the start of the Afghan war is marked around the world, looking forward is more important than looking back. As I noted in an earlier post, staggering mistakes have been made over the last decade. While individual Americans and Afghans have performed heroically, the Afghan and American governments – particularly their civilian arms – have performed anemically. And Pakistan’s intelligence service - the ISI - is the single largest impediment to stability in the region.

Looking forward, the advocacy group Global Witness is on the right track. In a statement, it said that Afghanistan’s management of an estimated $3 trillion in copper, Iron, gold, oil, chromite, uranium and rare earths is the key to the country’s future stability.

from Photographers' Blog:

38 days and 10 years in Afghanistan

By Erik de Castro

As I write this blog, I am on the 38th day of my current assignment to Afghanistan as an embedded journalist with U.S. military forces. I have been assigned here several times since 2001 to cover the war that is still going on 10 years after the al Qaeda attack on U.S. soil. Mullah Omar, popularly known as the one-eyed Taliban, was the first member of the Taliban I met back in 2001. He held press conferences almost daily at the Afghan embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan a few weeks before U.S. forces and its allies attacked Afghanistan to remove the Taliban government.

Ten years and several trips back to Afghanistan later, I still haven't seen a lot of Taliban fighters. My present assignment is the time I’ve experienced the most encounters between the combined U.S. and Afghan forces and the Taliban.

from Full Focus:

Photographer notebook: Finbarr O’Reilly

Africa-based Reuters photographer Finbarr O'Reilly has been going on embeds with Canadian and U.S. forces since 2007, documenting the military struggle in southern Afghanistan. On the war's tenth anniversary, he recounts his experiences covering the daily lives of soldiers and tells of Sir Elton John's interest in one of his images of a dusty Marine.

"One of the biggest challenges of being embedded involves finding ways to illustrate the story without showing the Western military in an overly sympathetic or even heroic light. The opening image of this selection 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 -- insurgents who wear lightweight traditional robes and sandals and fight with Soviet-era or homemade weapons. The physical imbalance is striking. But the Taliban have drawn their Western opponents into a battle of attrition and wills on their home turf. Perhaps the most effective weapon the Taliban has is time. Will Western troops still be there in another 10 years?"

from Full Focus:

Afghan war: Iconic images

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
Ten years ago, U.S. forces began bombing Afghanistan in retaliation against its Taliban rulers who refused to hand over the al Qaeda leaders responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Within weeks, the air strikes had helped Afghan opponents topple the Taliban, but in the decade since, the deposed Islamist fighters have returned to mount an ever more aggressive insurgency against an Afghan government backed by the United States and NATO. Since U.S. President Barack Obama took office in 2009, the U.S. force has tripled in size, but Washington and NATO now plan to begin withdrawing and to hand over responsibility for Afghanistan's security to Afghan forces by 2014.

from The Great Debate:

Awlaki and the Arab autumn

By David Rohde
The opinions expressed are his own.

The death of Anwar al-Awlaki this morning is welcome news, but Washington policymakers should not delude themselves into thinking the drone that killed him is a supernatural antidote to militancy. Yes, drone strikes should continue, but the real playing field continues to be the aftermath of the Arab spring; namely vital elections scheduled for October in Tunisia and November in Egypt.

A series of outstanding stories by reporters from Reuters, The Washington Post, The New York Review of Books and The New York Times, have aptly laid out the stakes. Islamists are on the rise in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, but an extraordinary battle is unfolding over the nature of Islam itself.

from The Great Debate:

Don’t overestimate Afghanistan pessimism

This is a response to Rory Stewart’s book excerpt “My uphill battle against the Afghanistan intervention.” David Rohde’s response can be read here and Anne-Marie Slaughter's response can be read here.

By James Dobbins
The views expressed are his own.

Rory Stewart maintains that it is “not simply difficult, but impossible” to build an Afghan state. Presumably, this is meant hyperbolically, since Afghanistan has been recognized as an independent state far longer than any of its northern or southern neighbors.

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