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Each month in the Big Picture, we post a collection of photographs from Afghanistan.  They feature American forces and those of other countries, and they show us daily life among the Afghan people.  In June, President Obama declared that the United States had largely achieved its goals in Afghanistan, which set in motion an aggressive timetable for the withdrawal of American troops. However, the fighting has spiked in some regions of the country. On Aug. 6, the United States suffered its deadliest day in the nearly decade-long war when insurgents shot down a Chinook transport helicopter, killing 30 Americans and eight Afghans.  According to the United Nations, 360 Afghan civilians were killed in June alone.  The surges of violence reflect how deeply entrenched the insurgency remains even far from its strongholds. The war continues.  -- Paula Nelson (42 photos total)
Villager Juma Khan meets with the provincial district governor and fellow villagers at a shura, or consultation, on July 23 at the US Marine Patrol Base Salaam Bazaar in Helmand province, Afghanistan. As mentors with the international coalition attempt to phase out their involvement and put Afghan institutions in the lead, the Taliban continue to gain strength in many of Helmand's northern communities, where legitimate Afghan governance is more of a plan than a reality. (David Goldman/Associated Press)

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We humans share this planet with countless other species, interacting with many of them daily, others rarely. We treat some as sources of food and others as sources of companionship, entertainment, or education. We experiment with them at a genetic level, try to understand their overall behavior, and bond with them on an intimate scale. Most animals live their lives independently of us, but they dwell in habitats that we shape profoundly. Gathered below are images of animals in the news from the past several weeks, seen from the perspectives of their human observers, companions, captors, and caretakers. [42 photos]

A monkey who survived the Ivorian post-electoral crisis at the Abidjan Zoo. Three lions named Lea, Simba and Loulou, "died of hunger", said Claude-Sie Kam, a zoo employee, to an AFP reporter. About forty animals perished due to lack of food at the Abidjan Zoo during the Ivorian crisis. (Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images)

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Summer weather brings people together outside to enjoy music festivals, county fairs, carnivals and religious observations. I've gathered here some recent images of these celebrations, including a flaming horseman in Kyrgyzstan, Bastille Day in France, a German fun park inside a former nuclear power plant, and much more. [39 photos]

A girl on her father's shoulders looks through a maze of sunflowers growing in a field during a three-day sunflower festival in the town of Nogi, Tochigi prefecture, north of Tokyo, on July 24, 2011. A total of some 200,000 sunflowers welcomed guests for the summer festival, an annual draw for the small town. (Kazuhuro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images)

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