Friday, May 27, 2005

War damage

(c) Roger Leo

Decades of war have left a legacy of damaged buildings across Kabul, a city of 4 million or so. West Kabul was the most heavily hit area, but few neighborhoods are unscathed. Some buildings have been removed, but many still stand, and people have moved back into the lower floors -- a nervewracking prospect in this earthquake-prone region.

(c) Roger Leo

German soldiers -- part of NATO's 1,600-strong International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan -- man their post at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul.

Street scene

(c) Roger Leo

Schoolchildren in uniform head for class in Kabul. Under Taliban rule, girls were not allowed to attend school.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Opium war

(c) Roger Leo

Afghans harvest opium poppies in the Alishang Valley above Mehtarlam, where two Marines were killed May 8 in a 14-hour firefight.

Fire base

(c) Roger Leo

Marines burn trash before leaving their patrol base high in the Alishang Valley above Mehtarlam near the Pakistan border in eastern Afghanistan.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


(c) Roger Leo

Kuchi, Afghan nomads, have moved into the Kabul Valley with their families, tents and flocks. James Mitchener wrote about them in "Caravans," a wonderfully romantic novel set in Afghanistan after World War II.

Panjshir Valley

(c) Roger Leo

A long, long day yesterday touring the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul, where Massoud, the hero of Afghanistan, fought in turn the Russians, the Mujahaden and the Taliban. Soviet tanks and armored personnel carriers are scattered across the landscape. In places, these rusting skeletons of war have been built into riverbanks to control erosion, into stone walls to keep animals in or out, and are being used as dwellings or guard posts. Elsewhere they have been gathered into clusters. And in still other spots, they stand starkly against the rolling grass-covered land.


The international community in Kabul is worried over security in the wake of several incidents of kidnapping, attempted kidnapping, a bombing, a rocket attack and anti-American demonstrations. Opponents of the current Afghan government seem to be adopting an Iraq model -- attack vulnerable targets rather than heavily armed U.S., Coalition or Afghan troops. The purpose? Hamstring relief efforts, drive out U.N. workers and other NGOs, bring that whole sector to a halt. It devastated international relief efforts in Iraq.

Monday, May 16, 2005


(c) Roger Leo

The countryside is covered with landmines. Between 7 million and 9 million landmines are believed to have been deployed in Afghanistan, in a succession of wars. (That's out of a world inventory of 80 million landmines.) By 1999, 143 square kilometers of the country had been cleared; at that time 713 square kilometers remained to be cleared, but that area is increasing as more mined regions are discovered. In the Kabul Valley, travelers do not step off the hard road surfaces. And the landscape is dotted with rocks painted white -- safe, and red -- mines.

No go zone

(c) Roger Leo

An Afghan National Army soldier paints rocks red to mark a newly discovered minefield.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

All about animals

(c) Roger Leo

Animals are 80 percent of Afghanistan's legal economy and, after 20 years of war and 10 years of drought, the country has become an importer, not exporter, of animal protein. So Massachusetts State Veterinarian David Sherman, DVM, of Newton, left; Lt. Col. Michael B. Lennon, DVM, of Groton, center; and James Q. Knight, DVM, of Hardwick, director of animal sciences at Becker College in Leicester, right, are working together to help here. (As my old colleague Bill Clew often says, "There's always a Worcester connection.") This willingness to put their normal lives on hold and come here is important to think about amidst the poverty and violence, destruction and despair that hit a visitor in the face when one first sees this country. As often while traveling in the Third World, it is striking how lucky Americans are.

Saturday, May 14, 2005


(c) Roger Leo

This city shows all the energy and bedlam of the Third World. Wild drivers who use the horn to say "Hi" and "I'm about to pass" and "Get out of my way" -- constantly. Bicycles everywhere, vying with horse- and handcarts for travel room. Street vendors selling everything from shoes to fresh potato chips -- cooked on the spot -- to vegetables to radios. So far the only sign of unrest is on BBC and online, and the presence here of a group of UNHCR workers who fled violence in Jalalabad three days ago. A mob ransacked and burned their quarters. They lost everything. (Another visitor was in Jalalabad that day, and saw no riots.) Today their security chief is flying back down -- Jalalabad is east of here, about four hours by car -- to see if they can return. A visitor to this teeming city played tourist yesterday -- palaces, historical sites, bazaar, museum, lunch in a restaurant -- and saw no hostility, much less rioters. It's a big place.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Reality check

(c) Roger Leo

Water taxis ply Dubai harbor in the United Arab Emirates. This bustling commercial and social center of the Arab world provides extraordinary contrast to the otherworldly reality of Afghanistan -- where credit cards are unknown and the economy runs on cash.