Afghanistan: A Look Back

Early Days | The Soviet Invasion

1979, 1980

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Nuristan, Afghanistan

I slipped into Afghanistan across the border with Pakistan in 1979.  I went with a couple of guides who did not speak English.
I certainly didn’t speak Dari or Pashto so our only form of communication was improvised sign language.
I was woefully unprepared. Among my belongings were a plastic cup, a Swiss Army knife, two camera bodies, four lenses,
a bag of film and a few bags of airline peanuts.

A photograph I made of a helicopter that had been sabotaged by the Mujahadeen.
This was near an army garrison which had defected en masse. New York Times, December 27, 1979

Two government collaborators executed by Mujahadeen near Jalalabad

Two government collaborators executed by Mujahadeen near Jalalabad

 My naiveté was breathtaking, yet my Afghan guides protected me and treated me as their guest.
It was my first experience with the legendary Afghan hospitality.

Fathers and sons fought side by side

Fathers and sons fought side by side

  

Evening Prayers

Evening Prayers

 

Planting land mines in Logar Province to thwart the government troops' advance

Planting land mines in Logar Province to thwart the government troops’ advance

 

Young boy joins guerilla movement in Nuristan

Young boy joins guerilla movement in Nuristan

 

 Praying along the Kunar River

Praying along the Kunar River

I went back when the Russians invaded.
I traveled with many different mujahadeen and militia groups.
We mainly traveled at night to avoid being spotted by the Soviet helicopters.
Most of the time we walked, but a few times we were able to borrow horses.

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Mujahadeen mourn loss of their brother-in-arms

I was always astonished at the continual pipeline of weapons and supplies going into Afghanistan from Pakistan around the clock.
Rockets, mortar rounds, ammunition, were carried in by camels, donkeys, and fighters.
It was only later that we found out the staggering amount of money supplied by the U.S. to make it happen.

 

When I went back over the border into Pakistan, I had blisters, saddle sores, and filthy clothing into which I had sewn rolls of film,
which were among the first images of the conflict.

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Fighters carry a disassembled Russian anti-aircraft gun to move it to a
position overlooking the valley

 

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   I visited a government garrison at Asmar District, Kunar Province,  where three hundred soldiers defected to the Mujahadeen.  New York Times, December 29, 1979

I visited a government garrison at Asmar District, Kunar Province, where three hundred soldiers defected to the Mujahadeen.
New York Times, December 29, 1979

Christian Science Monitor, January, 1980

Christian Science Monitor, January, 1980

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TIME Magazine, April, 1980 I took these pictures in Nangahar Province. My coverage over several trips for TIME, was the basis for winning the Robert Capa Gold Medal award.

TIME Magazine, April, 1980
I took these pictures in Nangahar Province.
My coverage over several trips for TIME, was the basis for
winning the Robert Capa Gold Medal award.

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Strategy session in Kunar Province

Stern Magazine, 1980 Mujahadeen using goat skins to cross rivers

Stern Magazine, 1980
Mujahadeen using goat skins to cross rivers

International Herald Tribune, 1980

International Herald Tribune, 1980

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Commanders meet with tribal elders in Nangahar Province

Paris Match, 1980. I made this photograph of government soldiers in Kunar Province.

Paris Match, 1980.
I made this photograph of government soldiers in Kunar Province.

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Men used weapons from swords and axes to ancient guns and rocket propelled grenades

Over the years, I went back more than dozens of times on assignment for National Geographic, Time Magazine, ABC News,
and other news outlets.  I have spent time in Afghanistan during invasions, retreats, truces, and relative peace.
Almost every time I returned, the power centers had shifted. In a great game of musical chairs, elders, warlords, criminals, and
mullahs’ power grows and diminishes as predictably as the phases of the moon.

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AFGHN-13198; Afghanistan; 1980. A young girl holds her sibling.

Many families left their destroyed villages to live with relatives
in other regions of the country

 

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Nari District, Kunar Province

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As much as outsiders have tried to “re-form” the country in their own
image, Afghanistan  has been able to absorb the blows of superpowers, and
remain essentially the same.

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The interesting thing  is that the people trying to change it,  change more than the country
does even after Herculean efforts of  governments, NGO’s, and coalitions.

 

00829_01, Afghanistan, 1980, AFGHN-13342

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This village was destroyed by government forces in the Spring of 1979 because they had
given refuge to Mujahadeen.

The viciousness of the Soviet attacks forced millions to flee their homes for Pakistan and Iran, and
contributed to what the Afghanistan scholar, Louis Dupree, called “Migratory Genocide.”
By 1986, five million Afghans had left their country.

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Forty-six percent of all casualties were caused by bombings from airplanes or helicopters.

We invite you to see this blog on our new website:  http://www.stevemccurry.com

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49 Responses to “Afghanistan: A Look Back”

  1. it’s a treasure…

  2. Prof mahboob Says:

    worth seeing again and again

  3. Abdullah Says:

    One of the greatest photographers I ever known ,, just great
    I love thins kind of photos
    Thank you so much Mr. Mccurry :)

  4. Absolutely fascinating, Steve. Thanks for sharing this.

  5. magnifiques photos pleines de sens et d’émotions ,bravo monsieur pour votre courage et témoignage!

  6. Wow.. stunning pictures and stories! You truly made history documented and visible with this reportage! Thank you for sharing!

  7. Shame on USSR and now shame on USA. An example of how the superpowers have murdered a country, its people and children. If they are left alone, they will find peace for themselves. If only it happens. Can the US not be tried in international court of law for civilian deaths?

  8. An amazing feat that made history. A wonderful selection of images here.

  9. What an amazing look back at the past and to imagine that it is still going on today.

  10. The one from “The Christian Science Monitor” is magnificent.

  11. Impressive job from the very beggining! I had never seen any of these pictures in B&W. Thanks for sharing them.

  12. What a documentation of life! Over forty years of strife. What scars would this have left on generations of children?

    Thanks Steve. Your contribution to the humanity is invaluable.

    Love.

    Sreeni

    http://www.sreeni.org
    sreeniviews.wordpress.com – photoblog

  13. [...] pictures, the shocking contrast between war and fun:  Afghanistan in the ’80s and More Fun and Games… [...]

  14. You are one very brave photographer. Glad you have survived to tell the tales. Love your blogs.

  15. breathtaking images

  16. great………………………no word

  17. jean yeow Says:

    These heartbreaking photos should be one of the best windows for the leaders of the world as a strict reminder of the brutality and eventual lead to the Armageddon of our beautiful planet – Earth.

    May God bless all living souls !

  18. Boris Keller Says:

    Wow.. stunning pictures and stories! You truly made history documented and visible with this reportage! Thank you for sharing!

    You´re great!

  19. Your photos bring back so much nostalgia. Kabul of the early eighties, is my school days. Strangely, we don’t have too many photos of our stay in Kabul ( perhaps, ‘coz our movement ( as Indians) was restricted to Kabul city only). But, I still have my copy of the 1985 National Geographic with your cover photo. Thanks for sharing these. Such wonderful chronicles. A lot of us from ISK ( India School Kabul/ Kendriya Vidhyalaya, Kabul), are your photography fans, since the 80s. The school doesn’t exist now so we cling on to photos & afghan food for our nostalgia..

  20. amazing work…..

  21. Steve its always a delight to see your photographs. It brings out the true story and expression of the people of what they have gone through living there.

  22. I was living and working in Pakistan at that time and regularly ran into Mujahadeen re-provisioning before returning to the mountains over the border in Afghanistan – I can only register my respect for these people and their wild, harsh country – they really didn’t / don’t deserve our intrusion into their lives.

  23. Thanks Mr Steve, The History beautifully deipicted, It is a Mystry of Struggle, which seems unending….. Thanks for sharing this nice post.

  24. Iconic! Thanks so much for such a wonderful inspiration!!

  25. That a single person can achieve all this and so much more, truly awesome, Steve !!!

  26. amazing story Steve, after reading this i feel like I am done, never be able to dream such experiences . Great story with mind blowing story telling photos as usual!

  27. Thanks Steve for sharing these photographs

  28. Thanks Steve for sharing these photographs.

  29. Moving images and story…

    how insignificant a life becomes when war happens…

    Ironic is that a war was (and still is) needed to bring peace…

  30. Hope to see more of this series..

  31. Really Steve is a strong witness of many history of the world, love your blog and love your work.

  32. looking at those photographs makes me wonder why the USA thinks they are going to change anything – the faces tell the story, they are what they are – we probably have no clue ! The strength and resolve your photos show pretty much tell the tale Steve, thanks for the talent and dedication.

  33. It’s hard to imagine how this work has affected you, Steve. It’s so impossible to read the expressions. I like your statement that the people who go in with grand ideas to re-form the Afghan people are the ones who transform.

  34. Olga Celle Says:

    Speechless!
    First your courage, then the suffering of this people… Not fair.

  35. Marietta Yandoc Says:

    There is no story without those who had been there to see and lived to tell it. Sometimes words are not enough. Then, pictures take on the power to tell us the rest of the story. Thank you Steve.

  36. Caro Sr Steve
    Eu o admiro cada vez mais, por sua coragem, determinação em estar sempre em busca da verdade.
    Dizer aqui que suas fotos são belíssimas e carregadas de sentimento seria repetir o que já fiz eu outros posts.
    O Mundo precisa de pessoas como o Sr, que lutam para transforma-lo
    abraço do Brazil
    Milton

  37. No words. Only… learn from your courage and attitude for reportages. Thanx Mr.

  38. Why can’t we learn and why do we have to lose our own sons and daughters in what is futile to change?

  39. Aliya Khalid Says:

    I’m an absolute fan of Mcurry. A single mom of two from Peshawar, near Adghan border I’ve been a witness of the reshaping political map. I would love to meet Mr Mcurry and talk to him about all that happened within A hundred mile radius of the insurgency. The insecurity that we’ve dealt with is a lesson in itself.

  40. Thank you for sharing this. Remembering is essential to learning. These pictures are haunting given their context. It is funny how people who can’t hardly change themselves will try to change others.

  41. Amazing. Thank you for sharing. Especially poignant for those of us that have had to head to that country during this war.

  42. saveriuccio Says:

    A wonderfull story of this martyrized country and his fierce and wonderfull people.

  43. aviatrixkim Says:

    I’m in awe of this body of work. Thank you for sharing it.

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