The Importance of Geography

Village of Lagubu in Sorubi province, Afghanistan, June 2011:

A child helps his family plant a field with wheat.

Most of the villages in eastern Afghanistan are heavily affected by the war. The farmers are caught in the middle between Taliban and NATO forces. They try to keep friendly relations with both and remain neutral.

Every night the sound of the fighting can be heard from the village.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Village of Lagubu in Sorubi province, Afghanistan, June 2011:

A farmer tends his opium field. Opium cultivation is an important source of income for the poor farmers of eastern Afghanistan. This area of the country, near the border with Pakistan, is poorly controlled by the Afghan police and smuggling routes through the mountains are easily accessible.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Village of Toorkhane in Sorubi district, Afghanistan, August 2010:

A farmer stands in front of his Marijuana field.

Opium and Marijuana are widely cultivated in eastern Afghanistan.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Village of Toorkhane in Sorubi district, Afghanistan, August 2010:

A man laughs with friends in the village of Toorkhane in eastern Afghanistan, not far with the border with Pakistan. It is common for the farmers to gather in the evening before prayers.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Village of Lagubu in Sorubi province, Afghanistan, August 2011:

Men gather in the little mosque of the village for the evening prayer. The mosque is an important space in the village. Men exchange news and children receive Quranic teachings, often the only form of education they will ever have.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Village of Lagubu in Sorubi province, Afghanistan, August 2011:

Children play around the village during a break from work on the farm.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Village of Lagubu in Sorubi province, Afghanistan, August 2011:

Young boys learn to read the Quran in the small mosque of the village.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Village of Lagubu in Sorubi district, Afghanistan, June 2011:

A young man, who lost a leg after stepping on a land mine, walks to the field.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Village of Toorkhane in Sorubi district, Afghanistan, August 2010:

Part of the village of Toorkhane as seen from a hill nearby.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Kabul, Afghanistan, May 2010:

A view of a mountain near the city of Kabul.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Wakhan district, Afghanistan, June 2013:

A mountain river along a remote road in the Wakhan corridor. Some parts of the country remain inaccessible during the winter months with mountain passes only reopening in the spring. The hardship of the mountainous terrain makes Afghanistan ideal for the kind of guerrilla war that the Taliban are pursuing.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, June 2012:

Soldiers off duty shop in a supermarket inside the main military base near the southern city of Kandahar. During the height of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, Kandahar and Bagram military bases reached the size of small cities, equipped with hospitals, shopping malls, airports and living quarters for the troops.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Helmand province, Afghanistan, December 2012:

Lance Corporal Chris Hoosepianner sits inside an armoured vehicle during a patrol mission. The convoy left Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province. These kinds of missions can be dangerous and several days long. Soldiers have to wait idly for hours in their vehicle between assignments.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Jaghato, Wardak Province, Afghanistan, September 2012:

Posters and maps hang in the private room of an officer in the combat outpost Jaghato in Wardak Province. The small American outpost is surrounded by an area controlled by the Taliban and it has often been attacked by the insurgents.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, June 2012:

A group of Afghan workers walk to the entrance of the Kandahar Airfield through the security wire netting.

Big American bases like this one employee many locals that needs to go through long security procedures in order to enter and exit the premises.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Kabul, Afghanistan, February 2013:

A soldier folds his trousers to avoid splashing them with mud. He seeks refuge from the dirty road on a Soviet tank lying abandoned on the side of the street in Sherpur, central Kabul.

This neighborhood is renowned for its luxurious houses built with a peculiar garish style.

Paved roads did not accompany the fast housing developments and the rich owners refused to provide them themselves.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Wakhan District, Afghanistan, June 2013:

Abdul Samad smokes opium in a yurt in Irgil, a Kirghiz settlement in the Wakhan District in North East Afghanistan. With no access to proper medicine, many in the area use opium as a painkiller.

Kirghiz are a deprived minority of Afghanistan and live in a remote mountainous area in the north east of the country with limited access to health services and education. This part of the country has been abandoned by the government and many members of this ethnic group are trying to migrate to Kirghizistan or Turkey for better living conditions.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Karz, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, June 2012:

An image of a mujahidin fighter hangs on the wall of Haji Shaida Mohammad’s house, a local elder of Karz village.

The village of Karz is the birthplace of Hamid Karzai, the former president of Afghanistan. The south of Afghanistan has seen fighting during the mujaheddin war against the Soviet invasion and again recently during the fighting between the Taliban and NATO forces.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Karz, Kandahar Province, Afghanista, June 2012:

Young boys help an older relative to farm a village field.

The village of Karz is the birthplace of Hamid Karzai, the former president of Afghanistan. From a young age, children help in the fields and they often cannot attend school if they are needed on the farms.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Karz, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, June 2012:

Workers fuel the furnace of a brick factory in the village of Karz. The work in the factories as well as in the fields largely follows tradition and has not changed for centuries.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Combat outpost Jaghato, Wardak Province, Afghanistan, September 2012:

An American soldier scans a prisoner’s iris in the vicinity of the house where he was arrested by the Afghan Police. The US Army keeps data on all the prisoners, while Afghan Police perform detention and trial tasks.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Combat outpost Jaghato, Wardak Province, Afghanistan, September 2012:

A group of medics assess the condition of an Afghan guard injured during a mortar attack. In the last months this small outpost frequently came under indirect fire: insurgents venture as close as less than a kilometer to the base, shoot a few rounds, then run and hide in inhabited areas.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Combat outpost Jaghato, Wardak Province, Afghanistan, September 2012:

A mechanic smokes a cigarette near the armoured vehicle he his repairing during a break from work.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Combat outpost Jaghato, Wardak Province, Afghanistan, September 2012:

Private Marquez waves the go ahead for the shooting of a heavy artillery piece during training.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Combat outpost Jaghato, Wardak Province, Afghanistan, September 2012:

Chaplain Thomas Latham blesses first Lieutenant James Simpson during an improvised service in the base’s canteen before a night mission.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Combat outpost Jaghato, Wardak Province, Afghanistan, September 2012:

In the Joint Operation Center a group of soldiers look at a firefight between the Afghan National Army and the Taliban on a screen connected to a security camera that monitors the Taliban’s movements. Often the US troops don’t intervene directly in the fighting against the Taliban but provide intel and air support.

©Lorenzo Tugnoli

Camp Spann, Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, February 2014:

Liutenant Pitcher heads out of his living quarters back on duty.

Liutenant Pitcher lost a leg during a patrol in 2012 in Kandahar province. He recently came back on duty with his old unit in Afghanistan. Since 2001, more than 1600 U.S. troops have lost hands, arms, legs or feet during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

©: Lorenzo Tugnoli

Combat outpost Jaghato, Wardak Province, Afghanistan, September 2012:

A soldier checks his haircut on a broken rearview mirror from an armoured vehicle.

©: Lorenzo Tugnoli

Combat outpost Jaghato, Wardak Province, Afghanistan, September 2012:

Seargent Hollars with two colleagues from the 3rd Platoon look at the fire of burning trash at the end of a workday.

©: Lorenzo Tugnoli

Combat outpost Jaghato, Wardak Province, Afghanistan, September 2012:

A plane hovers over combat outpost Jaghato after dropping food and supplies. The base is not accessible by road because of the constant threats of improvised explosive devices and insurgent attacks.

©: Lorenzo Tugnoli

Baghlan Province, Afghanistan, December 2014: Members of Commander Kaftar militia train in the mountains near their compound.

The militia has been fighting the Taliban in northern Afghanistan for decades and receive poor support from the central government in Kabul.

©: Lorenzo Tugnoli

Baghlan Province, Afghanistan, December 2014:

A member of Commander Kaftar’s militia stands outside their headquarters in the winter.

Boys are often recruited and trained in militia groups like this one from a young age.

©: Lorenzo Tugnoli

Wakhan District, Afghanistan, June 2013:

Irgil is one of the Kirghiz settlements in the Wakhan District in North East Afghanistan.

The Kirghiz population mainly breed livestock and therefore undergo seasonal migrations in order to find better pastures for the animals.

Kirghiz constitutes a deprived minority in Afghanistan and live in a remote mountainous area in the north east of the country with limited access to health services and education. This part of the country has been abandoned by the government and many members of this ethnic group are trying to migrate to Kirghizistan or Turkey for better living conditions.

©: Lorenzo Tugnoli

Kabul, Afghanistan, February 2014:

A worker prepares steel reinforcement used in walls in the prefabricated construction factory in Kabul.

The factory was founded during the Russian invasion and is working to this day to produce prefabricated houses.

Most of the housing units have been gathered in a neighbourhood called Microyan. Houses in this part of the city are considered comfortable accommodations for Afghan standards since they have central heating, working sewages and electrical systems.

Government official and members of the middle class live here.

©: Lorenzo Tugnoli

Kabul, Afghanistan, February 2014:

Fake flowers and religious symbols decorate the employee break room in the Kabul prefabricated construction factory.

©: Lorenzo Tugnoli

Kabul, Afghanistan, February 2014:

A worker prepares steel reinforcement used in walls in the prefabricated construction factory in Kabul.

©: Lorenzo Tugnoli

Afghanistan, March 2014:

Seargent Andrew Miller (second from right) jokes with other soldiers during a helicopter transfer from Bagram Airfield to Jalalabad Airfield.

Four wounded veterans travelled back to Afghanistan to revisit the battlefield with the help of the Operation Proper Exit, a privately funded organisation.

They were fighting together in the same unit in Arghandab Valley (Kandahar province) in 2010. Almost half of the company was injured by improvised explosive devices during that tour.

Captain Matt Anderson was the platoon leader, his right foot shattered when he stepped on an improvised explosive device. Seargent Daniel Harrison suffered traumatic brain injuries. Seargent Ryan McIntosh lost his right leg and Seargent Andrew Miller lost his left one.

Over 5 days they toured various bases in Afghanistan to visit the place where they were injured; visit the hospital where they were first assisted and talk about their experience to soldiers on duty.

Seargent Noah Galloway also travelled to Afghanistan along with Operation Proper Exit; he lost his right leg and his right arm fighting in Iraq in 2005.

©: Lorenzo Tugnoli

Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, March 2014:

The group of veterans is entertained with a display of the latest war technologies at Kandahar Airfield. Seargent Daniel Harrison checks a new generation rifle.

©: Lorenzo Tugnoli

Bagram, Afghanistan, March 2014:

Abdul Wakhil, aged 12, and his older brother Abdul Mateen sit in their house near a Bagram Airbase.

Abdul Wakhil, lost both his legs while he was walking in a shooting range near his house.

Young boys often walk into the dangerous areas of the shooting ranges to collect metal to sell. Unexploded ordnances remain a great danger for civilians in Afghanistan.

©: Lorenzo Tugnoli

Kabul, Afghanistan, May 2014:

Burka clad women walk near a branded truck parked outside the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Kabul.

In 2014 Kabul was the fifth fastest growing city in the world. Many moved to the city to look for jobs and education. Recent developments and terrorist attacks made it also one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

©: Lorenzo Tugnoli

Wardak province, Afghanistan, April 2014:

A policeman stands in a polling station in the village of Pul-i-Sorkh, in Wardak province. Only 100km away from the capital, this province is infamous for Taliban activity.

The elections process in Afghanistan has often been carried out in an atmosphere of insecurity. There have often been terrorist attacks on polling stations or on electors. Allegations of irregularities from presidential candidates are also common.

©: Lorenzo Tugnoli

Kabul, Afghanistan, April 2014:

Voting operations in Wazir Akbar-Khan mosque, in Kabul city. The Afghan capital saw a high turnout at the polling stations in 2014 despite the risk of Taliban attacks.

©: Lorenzo Tugnoli

Kabul, Afghanistan, May 2014:

Students gather in the playground of the Central Asia High School in Kabul during a break from classes.

Schools are often unavailable outside the main cities, especially for girls.

©: Lorenzo Tugnoli

Herat, Afghanistan, November 2009:

Soldiers of the Afghan national army trains in the use of AK-47 automatic rifles at Camp Zafar shooting range. The training is coordinated by the US military which outsources some modules to private security companies.

©: Lorenzo Tugnoli

Kabul, Afghanistan, October 2014:

Traders sit in Shahzada Exchange market waiting for buyers.

Shahzada Exchange market is the main exchange market in Afghanistan. The value of the local currency is determined here, by the daily operations in the market.

Traders are making profits by buying and selling currencies as the values fluctuate.

©: Lorenzo Tugnoli

Lashkargha, Afghanistan, September 2014:

A view of Lashkargha, the capital of the Helmand province, at dusk. Close to the border with Pakistan, Helmand province is one of the areas most affected by the fighting between the Taliban and the NATO forces.

©: Lorenzo Tugnoli

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The Importance of Geography

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Lorenzo Tugnoli’s photoessay is divided into two parts. He opens with a stunning series of black and white images of village of Lagubu, which sits on the Afghanistan side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. That section of the two-part photo-essay opens up windows into daily life in this border region, views that illuminate the ways in which social structure is a central, but often hidden, dimension of the conflict. For example, we see families working in the fields to make a living, often by planting seeds of poppy and marijuana. Those crops are the base of the regional drug trade and an economic driver of what is now the longest war in U.S. history.

These everyday dynamics of village life are inextricably connected to the wider war between the US and its few remaining NATO allies, and Afghan forces that Tugnoli documents in the second part of his essay, the color images. Here Tugnoli has an eye for history, creating photographs such as an Afghan soldier stepping primly on top of an abandoned Soviet tank to bypass the mud. Yet the figurative muck, the epistemic murk at the core of the war on terror is unavoidable as the war resists every effort to bring it to an end.

Tugnoli’s photographs raise questions about the limits of empire and the importance of geography in guerrilla warfare, which would seem to be strong arguments for continuity rather than change in patterns of conflict. Yet, clearly, the misadventures of the Soviets and the Americans are quite different. From the corporate provisioning, to the technological advances of the early twenty-first century, like the iris-scan and drone surveillance used by U.S. forces (that feature in Tugnoli’s photos), the war in Afghanistan continues to transform.

Tugnoli also pays special attention to children, implicitly asking, what future will the current conflict leave subsequent generations? What will happen once the Americans, like the Soviets before them, withdraw? The photograph of a bullet-ridden Coca-Cola distribution truck seems to suggest that it will not be the haven for US interests that U.S. leaders in Washington had dreamed that it might become in late 2001. To what extent will the grinding insurgency and counterinsurgency, like the one forty years earlier, signal a reorientation in international affairs?

— Alexander L. Fattal
Department of Communication
University of California, San Diego

Copyright information: Photos are copyright ©Lorenzo Tugnoli