Fifteen Years on the Frontline
Image Credit: ISAF

Fifteen Years on the Frontline

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Robert Fripp wrote a piece of music called Cycling to Afghanistan. He must have been on some ’60s acid trip when he wrote it. It’s a mind-altering track–a chilling, guitar-grating composition about cycling across the Hindu Kush Mountains to Chicken Street and beyond. I was born in 1967, the year of Aquarius and a time when it was considered safe to travel through Afghanistan. No landmines to worry about or fundamentalist checkpoints to talk your life through.

My Afghanistan inspiration began during the Soviet war in the 1980s, and it was the Mujahedeen whom I saw as the heroes. They were the classic underdogs fighting the ‘guerrilla’ cause for their civil rights, their homeland. Outgunned but not outmanoeuvred, they fought the Russians and sent them packing in 1989 after 10 brutal years of occupation.

It may have been Charlie Wilson’s war back then, but in 1993 I saw it as my war. This god-forsaken rock of a country, which had witnessed hundreds of foreign invasions and never once been conquered, had awoken in me a desire for adventure that nothing else compared to.

My first trip to Afghanistan was in the winter of 1993. This is when the affair began, and the affair became a very dangerous game over the years as I grew to love and hate the mindless civil war around me. Being a photographer gave me a good enough reason to go and capture the horrors and beauty of this sad and alien land. I wanted to be the eyes and ears of the Afghan people. Back then, I struggled to get my pictures published in a world that had turned its back on Afghanistan. This made me more determined than ever to make an impact for Afghanistan’s sake, and to mould a career for myself in the meantime.

This was no joke, no place for weaklings, and I don’t mean the freezing winters where the temperature drops to -20°C. I mean, you need to have eyes in the back of your head and you need to be crazy and fearless. You need guts of iron to pass by Hekmatyar’s boys and the roadblocks and you need to pray for each time you make it out alive. You need to be in control and you need a sense of humour. You need to know when to stand up for yourself and when to back down, and you definitely need to know when to run.

My arrival in Kabul coincided with multiple rocket attacks from the mountains surrounding the city. Hekmatyar was pounding the forces of Ahmed Shah Massoud and President Rabbani with his lethal rocket launchers, otherwise known as ‘Stalin organs.’ General Dostum was bombing from the air and if you were lucky enough to not be hit by flying shrapnel, there was no way out of the thunderous pounding from explosions that you felt inside you and made you want to throw up. My doctor’s disguise had worked well in getting me this far, but my hangover and lack of sleep from an all-night game of Risk was pushing things.

Afghanistan is a complex place and is best explained in a simple and personal approach. My diaries may entertain you and offer an insight into some of the adventures I had over the past 15 years. At times they may shock you and at times, I hope, bring a smile. But photography is my strength, not writing, and through these images I hope you’ll learn as much about the people and history of Afghanistan as you will about me, a nomad with a Leica. I love photography and each photograph within this collection was chosen by me. It’s not always my best work, but it is a story–and I’m really just a storyteller with pictures.

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