I traveled with the Afghan Mujahadeen in 1979, who were determined to resist, undermine, and overthrow the Marxist puppet central government. This was before the Soviets invaded. I photographed men girding for war and women selling jewelry to buy ammunition.
We traveled as much as thirty miles a day subsisting on tea and bread with an occasional bonus of goat cheese or yogurt. The only drinking water was what we scooped out of an irrigation ditch.
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. 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.
I witnessed strafing by Soviet helicopter gunships, ambushes of Russian convoys, forced marches of captured soldiers, and the mujahadeen jumping on top of helicopters they brought down with Stinger missles.
During the ten years the Russians were in Afghanistan, they killed one million Afghans; five million became refugees.
These are the proud men who were girding for war in a place where ancient absolutes still prevail.
- Adapted from Owen Edwards in American Photographer magazine, 1980.
There was a deep camaraderie amongst the fighters who were on the greatest mission of their lives. They didn’t worry much about casualty numbers. The harder the fight was, the stronger they became. Walking in the snow without boots high up in the Hindu Kush was commonplace. Those men were as tough as it gets, yet they could be gentle and tender with children.
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. The interesting thing to me is that those trying to change it, change more than the country does even after Herculean efforts of governments, NGO’s, and coalitions.