Another day of war in Afghanistan
At least 20% of the population of Afghanistan lives in territory controlled by the resurgent Taliban, but the longest war in American history is far from over. In early July, Barack Obama announced the extension of the presence of Americans in this country, so by the time he leaves his post, there will still be more than 8,000 US troops in Afghanistan.
Afghan news does not flash on the front pages of the world media, but for photographer Andrew Quilty, who captures the life of this country in his photographs, public attention is very important. “Despite the likely good intentions, the 14-year-long intervention in Afghanistan has become a catastrophe for everyone involved. The international community cannot be allowed to simply leave and forget Afghanistan, ”he told Time. He spent several weeks in one of the most unstable Afghan regions of Helmand, the country's largest province located in the southern part of the state, on the border with Pakistan.
Time correspondent Olivier Laurent talked with Andrew and found out why he is so interested in the processes taking place in the country.
Olivier Laurent: Why did you go to Helmand, given the current security situation in the region?
Andrew Quilty: With the arrival of spring, the southern regions of the country are constantly attracting attention. Especially Helmand Province, which is considered one of the main strongholds of the Taliban. And the fact that the largest crop of opium poppies in the world is harvested in Helmand is not at all a coincidence. Bringing huge profits crops rise to April. Harvesting is followed by the inevitable “spring offensive” of the Taliban. Along with a generous harvest, spring brings money needed for combat operations.
A national police officer at a checkpoint in the administrative center of Helmand province, Lashkar Gah.
The first two times I visited the city of Helmand, the city of Lashkargah, in the company of my fellow journalists, who are also my neighbors in the Kabul apartment. Given the constant cuts and high levels of desertion in the Afghan army, we were interested to see how the soldiers actually serve in the hottest spot on the map of Afghanistan.Among other things, we were interested to see how vulnerable Lashkargah was, because after a major offensive by Taliban militants in December 2015, many had predicted that the city would fall with the arrival of spring.
Employees of the local police station at the outpost, one of them climbs the stairs to take a look at the fields where the Taliban militants had recently raided. A militant-controlled village just a few hundred meters away.
During these trips, I was amazed at how close the front line was to the capital and how often there were collisions. I remember that after several commanders of army units gave the go-ahead so that we stayed in positions at night (usually clashes happen just at this time of day), from the windows of the hotel’s dining hall, where we were the only guests, we saw lines of tracer shells bend in an arc over the horizon, and heard the rumble of artillery and mortars from those places where they were a few hours earlier. Although the locals (at least judging by their appearance) did not react to what was happening.
Pupils in the classroom without a teacher, Syedabad region, Helmand province. The school collaborates with the Afghan National Army, whose soldiers are located on its roof.
I think that there is a common misconception about the places where the war is going on: it is believed that, in addition to hostilities, nothing happens there. Although the war seriously hurt the economy, increased the crime rate, at the same time lowering the standard of living, yet Lashkargah is more likely to live than dead: bakeries open until dawn, children continue to go to school, and after school they play in dusty playgrounds.
The oldest employee of a marble processing factory is finishing work on the ornament. He works in a factory since adolescence.
A man is going to put on a prosthesis after breakfast in one of the popular restaurants in Lashkargah.
Bakers work at dawn, Lashkar Gah.
Olivier Laurent: What's the situation there? Why is it so important to document what is happening in Afghanistan in general and in Helmand in particular?
Andrew Quilty: Like most of the country, Helmand is becoming an increasingly less favorable region for travel, especially if you are not going to the provincial capital. This fact, coupled with the constantly declining interest in Afghanistan, means that fewer and fewer journalists are going beyond the city limits of Kabul to talk about what is happening in the rest of the country.There are several reasons for this, but the main one, it seems to me, is that news organizations rarely believe that the demand for information from these places justifies the risk of sending reporters.
A local police officer, who has recently received several injuries, is resting on one of the bases in the Gereshk district (Helmand province), located near the front line.
And yet, why Helmand? From the point of view of an international audience, since 2001 Helmand was the main center of hostilities. More soldiers of the international coalition died here than in any other part of the country. This region has always been fertile ground for insurrections and uprisings, and now a substantial part of the province’s territory is controlled by the Taliban units.
Helmand is a kind of symbol of the failure of the international coalition, its anti-drug, anti-corruption initiatives and counter-insurgency strategy.
A young shepherd of sheep and a samovar tea seller at one of the Friday livestock bazaars.
Olivier Laurent: Your photos tell us that war has become a habitual part of life in those places?
Andrew Quilty: It is so, the inhabitants of Helmand are accustomed to war. Among them are very few who have found at least a relatively long period of peace in their lives. One cannot say that they consider such a state of affairs acceptable, but they simply have to put up with it. The inhabitants of Helmand are tired, they are exhausted by the war. And of course, being there, you see with your own eyes how the war affected the usual aspects of life.
In the dilapidated amusement park on the banks of the Helmand River, I saw a young man climbing the frame of a long-abandoned Ferris wheel. His weight was enough for two boys in one of the booths to overcome a quarter turn. Another man lamented that the wheel would never turn at will. No one will allocate money for its restoration, because the risk is too great that such infrastructure facilities will be destroyed.
Afghan National Police officers rest and smoke inside the building of one of the checkpoints, located less than 600 meters from the positions of Taliban militants and less than 30 minutes from the province center, Lashkar Gah.
Olivier Laurent: You have devoted several years of your life to Afghanistan. Why?
Andrew Quilty: It’s hard to say exactly what kept me here. Afghanistan can be an incredibly disappointing and difficult place to live. As a photographer, for me this country is the best and worst place where I tried to take pictures, because you often find yourself in situations where you need to look through many things that you see, for example, from a car window, because one reason or another to intervene can be very dangerous.
Moreover, it is not advised to leave the house during twilight and at night, there are severe cultural prejudices about photographing women, it’s dangerous to be in half of the country’s territory even for the purpose of simple observation, but to allow a foreigner to enter the territories controlled by Taliban, out of the question.
Boys and boys get in the boat at sunset.
I think this partly explains my interest in Afghanistan. It all comes down to one thing: I see great significance in what I can do while I am here. Because here it is difficult to point the camera at something without having stumbled upon one or another scene, the essence of which lies much deeper than a simple picture or its aesthetic perception.
Now I feel that most of my early works were associated with these sensations.I find Afghanistan to be absurdly colorful for photography, and the combination of these two definitions of one geographic place always creates a special attraction for photographers.
An officer of the Afghan National Police is standing on the roof of a checkpoint.