Photographers' Blog

Back in Afghanistan, ten years later

By Erik de Castro

Ten years ago I was part of the three-member Reuters multimedia team that went to Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. We covered the pursuit for Osama Bin Laden and his Taliban followers, who were believed to be holed up in the caves of the Tora Bora mountains, by US military special forces fighting alongside the Afghan Mujaheedin. Nobody from the press saw Osama. Instead about a dozen Taliban captured from the caves were presented to the media in Tora Bora.

As we passed the Afghan border on the road to Jalalabad following a long journey from Islamabad, Pakistan, I remember the precautions our security adviser told us: If ever we are stopped by armed men along the way, stay calm and just hand over our U.S. dollars. Weeks earlier, two Reuters colleagues (a TV cameraman and a photographer) and two other European journalists traveling with a convoy of media vehicles were killed by bandits on the same road.

Ten years after 9/11, I was back in Jalalabad as an embedded photojournalist with the U.S. military forces. I was attached to Task Force Bronco covering eastern Afghanistan. During the first week of my embed with different units, I joined the soldiers as they met with Afghan police officers and local government leaders, patrolling for hours, day and night searches for arms caches, and looking for members of the Taliban.

During patrols, local residents would smile at and greet the soldiers. Children swarmed them asking for pens, candies and one dollar bills.

On one patrol, young Afghan teenage boys crowded around a female soldier until the men in her platoon shooed them away.

Embedded in Afghanistan

US Army soldiers from 2nd Platoon, B battery 2-8 field artillery, fire a howitzer artillery piece at Seprwan Ghar forward fire base in Panjwai district,  Kandahar province southern Afghanistan, June 12, 2011. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Everyone will tell you that Afghanistan is a great place to take pictures. No one will inform you it’s a very difficult place to take pictures in the peak of summer, both for cameras and photographers.

It’s my second time embedding in Afghanistan, my previous embed was in February 2010, a time of year when the air is still clear after winter and the light is soft like no other place on earth.

This time I’m embedded in Kandahar in midsummer, at the edge of the Reg desert that spreads all the way to Pakistan and heats up to 45 degrees Celsius. The sunrise is at 4:30 and by 7:00 it’s already impossible to take any pictures due to the brightness of the sun.

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