Photographers' Blog

Christmas in Afghanistan

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.

Editing Under Fire in Afghanistan

I’ve spent the past month embedded with the German armed forces Bundeswehr – operating as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in northern Afghanistan – accompanying troops during missions from their bases in Masar-e-Sharif, Feyzabad and Kunduz. This is the first time the German army have allowed news agency photographers to be embedded with operational units, in the way the U.S. have allowed journalists similar access for many years. To be close to the units operating on the ground is the only way to report on their day-to-day work.

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Tuesday, September 30th was a special day. It was the first day after the month’s new moon and Muslims all over the world were celebrating the Eid al-Fitr festival, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. It is a joyful day for Afghans too. Families prepare delicious food and celebrate together with friends and relatives.

I was attached to a unit of German and Belgian soldiers driving to the town of Taloqan, about 75 kilometres east of Kunduz. There was tension in the air. Some roads were closed to military vehicles because suicide attacks or roadside bombs were expected during the holiday period. Just a week before, a suicide bomber driving a car had got close to a German army convoy, causing damage to armoured vehicles. German military personnel travelling inside had a lucky escape.