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Mazari Sharif

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ashurabombing900.jpg
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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The New Year began violently in Afghanistan, with three bombings killing 13 people in one day in Kandahar. In addition, the French Defense minister told soldiers he backed US efforts to open peace talks with the Taliban, and President Obama was in talks about defense priorites as the US military readied for challenges from China and Iran while downplaying any future counterinsurgency efforts like the ones in Afghanistan or Iraq. Meanwhile, the foreign troop withdrawal process continued, as more responsibility was transferred to Afghan security forces. The goal is a complete withdrawal by the end of 2014. -- Lloyd Young (41 photos total)
Afghan policemen march during the transfer of authority from NATO troops to Afghan security forces in Chaghcharan, Ghor province, west of Kabul, Afghanistan on Jan. 4. The security responsibilities of Chaghcharan, the provincial capital of Ghor province is handed over from the NATO forces to Afghan security forces. The process of taking over security from over 130,000-strong NATO-led ISAF forces by Afghan troops would be completed by the end of 2014 when Afghanistan will take over the full leadership of its own security duties from US and NATO forces. (Hoshang Hashimi/Associated Press)

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The United States and allied forces have been in Afghanistan for over ten years, an occupation that approaches the 2014 deadline for a full withdrawal of those forces. As the transition draws closer, problems with security, the economy, and cultural mores are growing even more apparent. Included in this monthly look at Afghanistan are images that highlight these issues, as well as images that point to a more hopeful future. The activist group YoungWomen4Change prepares posters demanding women's rights even as the horrific torture of 15-year-old Sahar Gul, who refused her husband's family's demands that she become a prostitute, came to light. Also included here are images of another Afghan girl, 12-year-old Tarana Akbari, who witnessed the terrible suicide bombing in Kabul that killed at least 80 Shiites during observances of the Ashura holiday. The bombing has raised fears of renewed sectarian violence. -- Lane Turner (37 photos total)
A man feeds pigeons in front of the Shrine of Hazrat Ali, or Blue Mosque, in Mazar-e-Sharif on December 22, 2011. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

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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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