Photographers' Blog

Christmas in Afghanistan

December 21, 2012

Baghlan, Afghanistan

By Fabrizio Bensch

There are thousands of miles that separate the German soldiers in Afghanistan from home.  For up to one year, they may be stationed in Afghanistan, but for most of them no more than four to five months.

The lead up to Christmas in Germany has a very long tradition and the arriving season is dominated by beautifully decorated shop windows in department stores and the smell of gingerbread and cinnamon. Christmas trees are festively illuminated in the streets with Christmas decoration and Christmas markets and Santa Claus are in every city.

But for the German armed forces Bundeswehr soldiers far away, each of them tries to maintain a little bit of these traditions and so everywhere in the camps are signs of Christmas.

Since December 1st, I’ve been embedded with the German armed forces in northern Afghanistan, where the Bundeswehr contingent has been operating along with other nations of the ISAF International Security Assistance Force.  The Germans have changed how they provide security in the northern cities of Kunduz, the combat outpost observation point north and Mazar-e-Sharif  in the last few years. The Bundeswehr has partnered with the Afghan security forces and is now more visible.

Whereas in the past , the operations against the Taliban in the north of the country were led by soldiers of the Bundeswehr, the Afghan army is now conducting their own operations.

I travel with patrols and the danger is invisible and everywhere because improvised explosive devices can be hidden anywhere.  There is still war in the country.

The little changes are visible. The German police mentor the training of Afghan policemen. There are now some women  as trainees in police training centers.

Women can be police officers in Afghanistan’s future. They have even opened a kindergarten in the police training center in Mazar-e-Sharif, so the police trainees and female staff working in the training facility can leave their children there.

The women often come from far away and without this help they could never be policewomen. For women in this country to be a policewoman is a big step, but so much in Afghanistan needs time as well as peace.

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