Afghanistan

In 1979 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan leading to decades of conflict until the XXI century. Afghanistan would resist the occupation with several armed factions organized along the territory’s diverse ethnic groups. Many of these mujahideens would be financed and supported by the USA. By the late of the 80s the Soviets withdrew, but massive fighting would remain between different warring factions, mainly in Kabul and other major cities. In 1994-95, Ahmad Shah Massoud defeated the other armed groups and took control of Kabul. However, a new movement, the Talibans, would emerge and topple the regime establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Fighting would continue with Massoud resisting Taliban power through the Northern Alliance. In 2001, following 09/11, NATO intervened with the aim of defeating the Taliban regime and its links with Al-Qaeda. In spite of the international intervention, Afghanistan has remained in conflict until today.

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«In the afternoon in Kabul, the tugging sounds of automatic fire and machine guns are replaced by heavy artillery and rockets. The artillery fire against Kabul continues the whole night like every other night, and grenades are raining down without discrimination over the civil population in the central parts of what used to be Kabul. I have made it to Kabul with the help of the International Red Cross (ICRC); first with an airplane to Jalalabad and then in a long convoy of trucks to the capital, Kabul.

Kabul is divided between fighting sides that regularly change friends and make new alliances. At this moment the President and his defense minister, the legendary Mujahedeen leader Ahmed Shan Massoud is fighting against the fundamentalist, hardliner Hekmaktyar and his strange ‘bed partner’, the Uzbek warlord and former Communist General Rashid Dostum. The Shia Muslim Hezb Wahdat militia who represent the Mongolian Hazara population in Kabul has changed sides several times already.

The destruction in Kabul is probably some of the worst I have ever seen anywhere; the old, central parts of the city are nothing but ruins and around 60% of the Afghan capital is literally pulverized house blocks turned into stones, sand and mud.

On both sides of the river, from the Russian Mikrorajon 1 and 11 blocks down to Shash Darnak, many areas including the national stadium have ceased to exist and the once so beautiful blue mosque has taken several hits by artillery and is now commonly called the ‘black mosque’.

Commander Massoud’s troops forced back the enemy and managed to cross over the river at the Reka-Khana bridge. They gained a foothold on the southeast river side in the Baghi Qazi district, where the two fighting sides actually are each holding a part of a mosque, while fighting is still heavy in the middle of the old Zoo and the surrounding garden.

Grenade launchers and heavy machine guns are positioned on top of the remaining house roofs and Kabul has been transformed into artillery holes and handmade bunkers. Inside in the completely blown out Zoo, a lonely lion has miraculously survived (he is going to be a great story in a much less bloody but more famous Afghan war) while all other animals have been killed or simply eaten up – this is ‘the battle of the zoo’»

Peter Strandberg | Kabul, Afghanistan | 1994