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Iranian Plateau

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With well over a year before American forces pull out of Afghanistan, the conflict there drags on. Every month in The Big Picture, we feature a selection of recent images of events there, from the soldiers and insurgents at war, the people longing for peace, and daily life and culture in the country of 29 million. Afghanistan remains among the world's poorest nations, and struggles with issues not found in other places, like an ongoing fight against polio. Afghanistan still supplies about 90% of the world's opium, a major cash crop in a country with few viable exports. Gathered here are images from April, 2012. -- Lane Turner (33 photos total)
Afghan policemen are mirrored in glass from a broken window as they stand guard outside the building where Taliban fighters launched an attack in Kabul on April 16, 2012. A total of 36 Taliban militants were killed as they mounted a wave of attacks across Afghanistan. (Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)

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The 2012 Pulitizer Prize for Breaking News Photography
© Massoud Hossaini of Agence France-Presse

Tarana Akbari, 12, screams in fear moments after a suicide bomber detonated a bomb in a crowd at the Abul Fazel Shrine in Kabul on December 06, 2011. 'When I could stand up, I saw that everybody was around me on the ground, really bloody. I was really, really scared,' said the Tarana, whose name means 'melody' in English. Out of 17 women and children from her family who went to a riverside shrine in Kabul that day to mark the Shiite holy day of Ashura, seven died including her seven-year-old brother Shoaib. More than 70 people lost their lives in all, and at least nine other members of Tarana's family were wounded. The blasts has prompted fears that Afghanistan could see the sort of sectarian violence that has pitched Shiite against Sunni Muslims in Iraq and Pakistan. The attack was the deadliest strike on the capital in three years. President Hamid Karzai said this was the first time insurgents had struck on such an important religious day. The Taliban condemned the attack, which some official viewed as sectarian. On the same day, a second bomber attacked in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Karzai said on December 11 that a total of 80 people were killed in both attacks. Published December 7, 2011.

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In early April, in an attempt to accelerate the transition of military responsibility to the Afghan government, the US agreed to hand control of special operations missions to Afghan forces, including night raids, relegating American troops to a supporting role. This deal cleared the way for the two countries to move ahead with an agreement that would establish the shape of American support to Afghanistan after the 2014 troop withdrawal deadline. Domestic support for the war (in the US) has dropped sharply. We look back at March in the troubled country. -- Paula Nelson (37 photos total)
Young Afghan women use an umbrella to shield themselves from the sun in Kabul, April 5, 2012. The position of women in Afghanistan has improved dramatically since the fall of the Taliban, with the number of girls in education soaring. But as the Americans and the Afghan government have pursued peace efforts with the Taliban, women are increasingly concerned that gains in their rights may be compromised in a bid to end the costly and deadly war. (Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)

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An Afghan father and his son try to stay warm outside the mud hut where he and his wife live with their 11 children, as snow falls at the Charahi Qambar refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan. In the past month, a time of unseasonably fierce cold and snowstorms, at least 22 Afghan children under the [...]

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Iran has appeared in numerous headlines around the world in recent months, usually attached to stories about military exercises and other saber-rattlings, economic sanctions, a suspected nuclear program, and varied political struggles. Iran is a country of more than 75 million people with a diverse history stretching back many thousands of years. While over 90 percent of Iranians belong to the Shia branch of Islam -- the official state religion -- Iran is also home to nearly 300,000 Christians, and the largest community of Jews in the Middle East outside Israel. At a time when military and political images seem to dominate the news about Iran, I thought it would be interesting to take a recent look inside the country, to see its people through the lenses of agency photographers. Keep in mind that foreign media are still subject to Iranian restrictions on reporting. [42 photos]

Iranian grooms, Javad Jafari, left, and his brother, Mehdi, right, pose for photographs with their brides, Maryam Sadeghi, second left, and Zahra Abolghasemi, who wear their formal wedding dresses prior to their wedding in Ghalehsar village, about 220 mi (360 km) northeast of the capital Tehran, Iran, on July 15, 2011. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

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As the War in Afghanistan passes the 10-year mark, the effect of the American withdrawal is already being felt among civilian aid workers, raising anxieties that Afghanistan will be abandoned and that gains will be quickly reversed. Even President Hamid Karzai asked nations at a conference in Germany recently to continue aid to his country for another decade. The United States, which provides two-thirds of all development assistance in Afghanistan, slashed its $4 billion aid budget to $2 billion in the 2011 fiscal year. The budget for 2012 may be cut further. In this post we continue our monthly visit to the country of Afghanistan, its residents and our troops. -- Paula Nelson (47 photos total)
An Afghan woman, holding her baby, walks through a busy street in Kabul, Dec. 5, 2011. A major international conference on December 5 sought ways forward for Afghanistan after the withdrawal of NATO combat troops in 2014. The boycott of two crucial players,Pakistan and the Taliban, dampened hopes of success. The one-day gathering brought around 100 national delegations and aid organizations to the former German capital Bonn. (Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images)

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Often in the Big Picture we feature "slice of life" photography originating from around the world, brought to us by photographers based in those countries who work for the Associated Press, Reuters and Getty Images. The photographs are often simple and show daily life in many places that we might not be able to experience in any other way except through those photographers' documentation. The images themselves are somewhat universal - they show us where people live and how people live, sometimes not so differently than we do ourselves. -- Paula Nelson (35 photos total)
Three-year-old Nadia Nassrallah eats her breakfast in from of her home in a slum on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan, Oct. 4, 2011. (Muhammed Muheisen/Associated Press)

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Last year’s floods in Pakistan killed 2,000, left 11 million homeless and affected the lives of another 7 million. The country is still struggling to recover from $10 billion in damage to infrastructure, irrigation systems, bridges, houses and roads. Reuters award-winning photographer Adrees Latif traveled back to the affected region to document the changes over the year in this dramatic series of combination images. Read about how Adrees took these images here.

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