‘Just staring in horror’: a photographer in Afghanistan on the eve of collapse

The story was moving very, very fast. We are all watching, I say “we”, the media, both foreign and local, just staring in horror. Everything is going viral from Kabul. Everybody has a camera phone. And every step of the way, the unfolding of this disaster is being documented. Today’s war is run by social media, the war of many years ago was not. Today, the Taliban wanted to show when they reached the gates of Mazar-e-Sharif. And that was shared by many, many Afghans. Every step of the way was tweeted like wildfire.

When I left, I knew there would be a lot of traffic going to the airport. We went through many back roads. I was surprised that the airport was very, very manageable. There was no chaos. They were just ticketed passengers. The national airport was quiet because flights to national cities were not taking off. They weren’t the scenes we’ve seen in the last few days. I was lucky, because the chaos that happened in those last 24 hours did not happen a day before.

I’ve been in the United States for just over 24 hours. I got message after message: “I know you left, but please help me.” “We can’t go to the airport.” “We are waiting for news from the United States” or “Canada takes 20,000”. They all say, how do we do this? How do we know when to go to the airport? It is one thing for the United States to send 5,000 soldiers, but quite another to have coordination on the ground. There hasn’t been any of that.

As a photojournalist, you are connected to your subject; I don’t care if it’s a family, if it’s a place, it’s a culture that you want to understand. My first trip to Afghanistan was in December 2001. It really became my rhythm. What I’ve covered since 2001 was only Afghans living in the context of war. That is what I wanted to show the world.

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