Kunar Province, Afghanistan, 1979

American Photo Insert B&W008I traveled with  the Afghan Mujahadeen in 1979, who were determined to resist and undermine the Marxist puppet central government.  This was before the Soviets invaded.

American Photo Insert B&W007We  traveled as much as thirty miles a night 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.

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American Photo Insert B&W001These are the proud men of Kunar Province girding for war in a place where ancient absolutes still prevail. Adapted from Owen Edwards in American Photographer magazine, 1980.

B&W Photograph001Steve McCurry and Commander Abdul Raluf

Abdul Raluf, standing to my left, was the commander of the Asmir Garrison in Afghanistan’s Kunar province.  In September 1979, Commander Raluf and his 300 soldiers at a strategic outpost on the border with Pakistan, switched sides, killing the provincial governor, stripping the garrison of weapons and supplies, and joined forces with the Mujahideen. It took another ten years for the Afghan government to fall.

24 Responses to “Kunar Province, Afghanistan, 1979”

  1. Gultan khan Says:

    Ohh man you take me 33 years bake in my past, thanks

  2. hi dear

    in 1979 was my grandfather (wakeel akram khan(nickname was makam khan) son of omar khan) member of parlament from kunar in afghanistan. he was very famuse at that time till now all ppl talking about him . he was very kind to ppl. he has pain in his hart for ppl from afghanistan. but in 1979 rashia kild him.cus he fight to him

  3. Pervaiz Ahmad Says:

    I am the youngest son of Abdul Baqi, the deputy to Mr. Safi. I am sure you will have some pics of him as well. Can you share those with me? My Father is alive and would be very happy to see those pics.


  4. […] look at these wonderful portraits in Afghanistan. He embedded himself with the people and traveled for long times with them to […]

  5. Anonymous Says:

    i love my country

  6. Richard Venola Says:

    Dear Steve:

    Want to know if we can use one of your images for a lead in Combat Arms (circ. 150k). ?When I went into Laghman in 81 my camera was lost/stolen and all I have to support a photo lead are grainy 100 stuff. My editor is having kittens over photo quality. We can give photo credit and a mention of your work in the call out.

    All the best, Richard Venola
    InterMedia Outdoors
    (309) 679-5094

  7. Steve, firstly stating the obvious Beautiful photographs all of them.. now i remember reading @ some point your career started at some point by saving up enough money to travel around India for two years. before this i was under the assumption that you had a newspaper gig in some placid town here in the states.. anyway these fotos are 1979 so when was this trip to India before that ? anyways i’m curious as to whether or not you had an interpreter for this journey in 1979 Afghanistan ? where does your bravado come from ? my first trip out of America was to India in 1996 i was just 22 then.. i remember @ times being scared out of my wits due to the very dangerous roads that we traversed throughout Rajasthan.. your pictures are a gift to the world.. Thank YOU from the HEART !!

  8. Congratulations on your fine work!
    Keep sharing with us
    Thank you

  9. Congratulations on your life´s work. You have really been around and despite all the war and suffering can still see and shoot all the beauty of life around you. That is not an easy task. Your series of portraits are particularly sensitive and revealing. Much akin to one of my favourite contrymen -Sebastina Salgado.
    Please keep sharing your important work with us.
    Thank you
    Thomaz W Mendoza Harrell -Photograper and Teacher (Brazil)

  10. The weaponry was very impressive, as well as the strong facial characteristics in black & white.

  11. Jed MacKay Says:

    The relationship I feel between the men in these magnificent portraits and their treacherous world of “ancient absolutes” is incredibly compelling.

    • Dear Jed,
      Many thanks for your comments about the portraits of the men in Kunar.
      I have vivid memories of them, and hope that their children and grandchildren can inherit a peaceful Afghanistan.

  12. Nothing to say.Completely Lost inside these photographs.

  13. Powerful as always. Like an earlier poster, I am very drawn into the image of the man with the vest. That vest looks like something to wear to a family event rather than a battle. Something made by a wife or mother. The image lets me see him as a man first and a soldier second.

  14. Francesco Bonomo Says:

    Thanks for posting these amazing pictures, Steve, and thanks to Charles Meacham for asking you to do it!
    I don’t think I had ever seen b/w pictures by you, maybe because i was born in ’76 and was only familiar with your colour work, so i wrongly assumed that you had been shooting only colour since the very beginning of your career.
    A powerful picture is powerful no matter what medium is shot with, and those photographs are another strong proof to that!
    Thanks again!

  15. siva prabu Says:

    hi steve,

    many thanx for sharing those amazing images steve .. proud men showing off there weapons …i guess your weapon is much more powerful than those [:)]…..you shot them too but now they are going to live for years…


  16. can’t stop staring at the 6th man down, in the patterned vest.

    i wonder what their lives have been like.

  17. Steve,

    Incredible. I have never seen any of these images before. Thanks for the posting.


  18. Thanks so much for sharing these photos. It’s great that you are using this blog to show some photos that haven’t regularly made it into your books. It’s also great to see photos of yourself in these situations as opposed to just your portraits. All of it- the shots of yourself and the lesser known photos- make it a much more interesting blog.

  19. Steve, what history you have within history. I was still thinking about Chewbacca and Han Solo in 1979 and here you are mingling with history.

    Artistically, love the skethy soft lighting especially on the 1st and 6th image down. (Love the soft backlighting on the 6th)

    Sean Shimmel

  20. Steve,

    I guess you have seen some of very beautiful landscape of Kunar Province. Is there anything to share?

    I wish end of war soon, so that I can tour and shoot those😛

    – Pawan

  21. thats some hardcore weaponry there… these are unbelievable… like looking at movie stills.
    do you still shoot with film?

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