Like an ache that’s been with you so long that you only remember it, when its suddenly gone. I became aware this weekend that the U.S. had, overnight, almost completely ended its participation in a war that had been grinding on for nearly 20 years. I had a couple of lengthy stays in Afghanistan years ago and really came to admire the people (well the men anyway. I never got to meet any women). As tough and straightforward as you will ever find, with the unequaled and endearing talent of turning a fierce stare into a slightly goofy smile when you raised your camera. Parts of the mountainous terrain reminded me of Idaho, one of the places where I grew up. I’m not a historical scholar of the place, or any kind of expert but I have a real fondness for the people and the place which left a big impression on me. So, I felt moved by the news to remember a bit of the time I spent there.
Its a bit surprising to realize that a country can exist without a national army, especially a country as steeped in violence as Afghanistan is; but at the start of the U.S. invasion of the country, Afghanistan had only a collection of opposing armed groups led by regional “Warlords”. So the creation of a national army controlled by the national government was a big deal in the early 2000’s. In one of my visits, I spent some time documenting one of the new Afghan National Army’s first Kandaks (a battalion size unit) to be trained by the U.S. military.
Some of these guys are probably officers now. I hope they are up to their new jobs.
If you’re interested in Afghanistan (not a history of its wars) I really enjoyed the excellent “An Unexpected Light” by Jason Elliot