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Original author: 
Ken Lyons

A tornado touches down near El Reno, Okla., Friday, May 31, 2013, causing damage to structures and injuring travelers on Interstate 40. Another series of deadly tornados swept across Oklahoma injuring hundreds and causing multiple fatalities including a team of storm chasers. Smoke rises from the International Red Cross building after a gun battle between [...]

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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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ON THE TRAIL IN MYANMAR: An Aung San Suu Kyi supporter held a portrait of late independence hero Aung San during a campaign stop at Kawhmu Township, Myanmar, on Thursday. (Reuters)

ON THE TRAIL IN MYANMAR, II: Supporters of Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi listened as she gave a speech in Kawhmu Township Thursday. (Reuters)

NOTHING LEFT: Villagers reacted after their house was taken down by demolition workers in Yangji village in central Guangzhou city, China, on Thursday. (Reuters)

GROWTH PATHS: A villager worked alone on agricultural plots planted with vegetable seeds near a U.S. military base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Thursday. (Erik De Castro/Reuters)

LADIES OF PALBOA: Women building dikes in a cash-for-work program run by a French NGO posed Wednesday near the village of Palboa, northeast of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. The cereal harvest is lower than usual due to lack of rain. (Raphael de Bengy/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

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In the year 2011, a total of 565 NATO forces stationed in Afghanistan were killed -- down from 711 in 2010 -- marking the largest decline in annual deaths during the decade-long conflict. The large number of NATO soldiers on the ground appears to have made a difference, a fact that worries Afghans as the U.S. and others accelerate their planned pullback. This year, 23,000 U.S. soldiers are scheduled to depart the country, heading toward a full withdrawal by 2014. For now, U.S. troops appear to be focusing on intensive training of Afghan forces and preparing for the logistical challenge of shipping home some $30 billion worth of military gear. Gathered here are images of the people and places involved in this conflict over the past month, as part of an ongoing monthly series on Afghanistan. [42 photos]

Cpl. James Hernandez, a combat engineer with Alpha Company, 9th Engineer Support Battalion, and a native of Goodyear, Arizona, uses an electric saw to dismantle a HESCO barrier at Firebase Saenz, in Helmand province, on December 13, 2011. FB Saenz is the first of several patrol bases being demilitarized by the Marines of 9th ESB throughout the month of December. (USMC/Cpl. Bryan Nygaard)

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As the war in Afghanistan passes the 10-year mark, the security outlook still looks bleak. Nevertheless, the Obama administration has just asked the Pentagon for initial recommendations for the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan in 2014 -- the first step in planning the final U.S. withdrawal. According to the Associated Press, as of yesterday, November 1, 2011, at least 1,704 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan. U.S. diplomats are now asking Afghanistan's neighbors to sign on to an ambitious plan for the future of Central Asia -- ambitiously being called the "New Silk Road" -- that would link the infrastructure of surrounding countries from Kazakhstan to India. Gathered here are images from there over the past month, part of an ongoing monthly series on Afghanistan. [41 photos]

A severely wounded US Marine hit by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) is carried by his comrades to a medevac helicopter of U.S. Army's Task Force Lift "Dust Off", Charlie Company 1-171 Aviation Regiment to be airlifted in Helmand province, on October 31, 2011. The Marine was hit by an IED, lost both his legs and fights for his life. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)

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Following the attacks on 9/11, Kate Brooks, at the age of 23, moved to Pakistan and began documenting the region—photographing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, daily life in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, and the historic revolutions in Egypt and Libya. Her ten-year odyssey is chronicled in the new book, “In the Light of Darkness: A Photographer’s Journey After 9/11”. The following is an excerpt.

December 2001

Nearly two months had passed since America started bombing Afghanistan and Kabul had already fallen. I couldn’t believe I was still in Pakistan.

Watching the war on TV frustrated me. I wanted to see these things myself, not through the eyes of other reporters. I finally acquired a digital camera and freed myself of all other commitments, but I didn’t know where to go.

The UN was charging $2500 for a one-way ticket to Kabul. The alternative was to drive, but four journalists had just been executed on the road I would have to take.

After I spotted a newsflash that Osama bin Laden was believed to be in the mountains of Tora Bora, I decided to head to Jalalabad. I went independent of any assignment, knowing Newsweek was thinking of assigning me. A few other journalists and I organized a convoy.

A Pakistani fixer called Imtiaz voluntarily followed me through Pakistan’s Khyber Pass as far as the border. The father of two was appealing a death sentence after being convicted of blasphemy by the government of Pakistan. Even so, he knew I was driving into danger and felt protective of me. After the Pakistani immigration officer stamped my passport, Imtiaz shook my hand, wished me well and left me with the parting words, “Welcome to Afghanistan.”

Just after the convoy crossed the border, an Italian journalist began giving me a hard time for wearing a red shalwar kamiz, saying I wouldn’t blend in. I shrugged. I was wearing traditional Pakistani clothes. “Color won’t make a difference,” I said. Whereas male journalists could grow beards and wear local clothes, I knew that in Afghanistan I would be spotted as a foreigner unless I wore a burqa.

I was excited and anxious about covering a war in Afghanistan for an American news magazine and national paper. I had been shot at by Israelis during the second intifada and gone on a few Russian government-controlled trips to Chechnya, but I had never been on an active battlefield. And yet, while I was the youngest journalist covering Tora Bora, I certainly wasn’t the only one with limited war experience. The 9/11 attacks turned a generation of metro desk reporters into war correspondents practically overnight.

In the early hours of the morning, dozens of Jeeps and pickup trucks gathered outside the hotel to take us to the front lines. On the way, one journalist’s car broke down, splitting the convoy in two. While the lead cars waited for the rest to catch up, we watched a B-52 circle overhead. There was genuine fear we might be bombed. A few journalists tried to call Pentagon officials on their satellite phones, hoping to convey to the pilots that the large convoy was comprisedof journalists, not terrorists.

We drove through the residential area of Hadda Farm, where bin Laden had lived with the militants he had trained for global jihad. On the side of the road, an exceptionally tall man stood with a cloth draped over his head in ‘Gulfie Arab’ fashion. I watched this distinctive Arab-looking man turn to look at the bombing of the mountains. As our cars neared, he skittered off the road just before I could see his face.

Pierre laughed at the suggestion that I may have seen bin Laden, but we were driving so fast he hadn’t seen the shadowy figure and we couldn’t stop the speeding convoy. Could the mythical figure and most wanted man in the world possibly have been hiding in plain view? In my mind, it was entirely plausible that bin Laden could be in the vicinity with all attention focused on the mountains.

We eventually arrived at the staging ground, a desolate stretch of pebbles set against the backdrop of mountains that were being bombarded with “daisy cutters”, bunker busting bombs that were also used to flatten jungles in Vietnam. The explosive sounds from heavy artillery being launched from an old Soviet tank forced me to my knees. My body reacted reflexively to the boom. I tried to hide my embarrassment after being spotted flailing around. Someone kindly assured me the rounds were outgoing fire from the Eastern Alliance side.

Over the next few days, TV crews set up live stations and journalists began camping out in the makeshift parking lot. Pierre wanted to go deeper into the mountains. I did not. “Maybe you don’t know what you can do,” he said.

I wanted to avoid unnecessary risks, but in a hurried moment, I got into a vehicle with the mayor of Jalalabad and the Washington Post correspondent. The latter assured me we weren’t doing anything dangerous. The mayor then proceeded to drive straight into the mountains I had just photographed being bombed. I was breathless and spoke little. There was no translator in the car to whom I could convey my concerns or pose questions to ascertain what exactly we were doing.

Suddenly, Haji Zaman appeared, perched on a rock, as if in his natural habitat. He and the mayor exchanged a few words before we drove on. Somehow, seeing the familiar warlord made the situation seem less threatening.

As we parked the vehicle, dozens of journalists, who had followed the mayor’s SUV, pulled up behind us. Two of the most experienced war correspondents covering the offensive were already there viewing al-Qaeda’s fighting positions. They were in a hurry to get down the mountain, saying that they suspected that mortars were about to start coming in.

My stomach sank as I watched them walk away. Everyone else had marched up a hilltop to get a closer look. I looked around and realized I was standing alone with a war-crazed Mujahedeen fighter, who had been camouflaged in the trees. I was too afraid to go up and too afraid to go down. We listened to the deafening rumble of a bomber flying overhead. I could tell the plane was coming closer. Amused by my apparent fear, the fighter pointed at the sky “America. America. U.S.A. No Problem.”

I imagined how devastated my parents would be if they were informed that their 24-year old daughter had been killed in the mountains of Afghanistan and promised God I would quit smoking if I survived.

Brooks’ will moderate a projection of her work tonight at The Half King in Manhattan, followed by a discussion with writer Scott Anderson. An exhibition of her photographs will be on display at the Southeast Museum of Photography in Daytona Beach, Florida, through December 16. Click here for more details.

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Britain’s Jessica Ennis makes an attempt in the Heptathlon Long Jump at the World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011.

Hurricane Irene moved along the east coast causing heavy flooding damage as far north as Vermont and shutting down the entire New York mass transit system. One of two people rescued from a sailboat, right, uses a line to make their way onto the beach on Willoughby Spit in Norfolk, Va., Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011, after they and another person were rescued from the boat that foundered in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. A rescuer, left, waits for s second person to exit the boat.

A Libyan rebel fighter holds ammunition from one of Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s munitions dumps hidden behind a row of residential houses on August 28, 2011 in Tripoli, Libya. Heavy fighting continues in the Libyan city of Sirte between Gaddafi’s forces and the surging rebel presence.

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Britain's Jessica Ennis makes an attempt in the Heptathlon Long Jump at the World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer) #

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One of two people rescued from a sailboat, right, uses a line to make their way onto the beach on Willoughby Spit in Norfolk, Va., Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011, after they and another person were rescued from the boat that foundered in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. A rescuer, left, waits for s second person to exit the boat. (AP Photo/TheVirginian-Pilot, Bill Tiernan) #

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People shield themselves from blowing sand and rain as they look over the beach during Hurricane Irene August 27, 2011 in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. Hurricane Irene hit Dare County, which sits along the Outer Banks and includes the vacation towns of Nags Head, Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills, as a category one hurricane around mid-day today. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) #

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A Libyan rebel fighter holds ammunition from one of Col. Muammar Gaddafi's munitions dumps hidden behind a row of residential houses on August 28, 2011 in Tripoli, Libya. Heavy fighting continues in the Libyan city of Sirte between Gaddafi's forces and the surging rebel presence. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

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Billy Stinson (C), his wife Sandra Stinson and daughter Erin Stinson (R) comfort each other as they sit on the steps where their cottage once stood before it was destroyed by Hurricane Irene August 28, 2011 in Nags Head, North Carolina. The cottage, built in 1903 and destroyed yesterday by Hurricane Irene, was one of the first vacation cottages built on Albemarle Sound in Nags Head. Stinson has owned the home, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, since 1963. "We were pretending, just for a moment, that the cottage was still behind us and we were just sitting there watching the sunset," said Erin afterward. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) #

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Traveller boy Pa Button (L) holds a puppy in a mobile home at Dale Farm on August 30, 2011 in Basildon, England. Dale Farm is the largest Romany Gypsy and Irish Traveller site in the United Kingdom. Part of the site is due for demolition after the local authorities deemed that it was built without planning permission. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images) #

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Tom Chase waves atop of his friend's beach home in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, in East Haven, Conn., Monday, Aug. 29, 2011. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill) #

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Portuguese fishermen, seen in silhouette, pull their net out of the sea onto the beach Monday, Aug. 29, 2011 in Caparica coast, near Lisbon. Along side the coast, fishermen use the common technique of trawling near the shore and pulling the nets out of the sea onto the beach by using an agricultural tractor. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco) #

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Telephone workmen attempt to find the telephone line along the storm battered road on Hwy 12 in Rodanthe, N.C. Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011. Landline phone service and power had been restored to Hatteras Village, Frisco, Buxton and Avon but north towards Pea Island damage was severe and residents were still disconnected Tuesday. ( AP Photo/The News & Observer, Chuck Liddy) #

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Meghan Morrow sweeps mud and debris from what is left of the Windham Spa, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011 in Windham, N.Y. Officials say more than a dozen towns in Vermont and at least three in New York are cut off, with roads and bridges washed out by flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Irene. In New York, the towns of Keene in the Adirondacks, and Windham and Phoenicia in the Catskills are effectively isolated by damage to roads and bridges. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) #

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In this Wednesday Aug. 31, 2011 photo, spectators flee as waves created by a tidal bore crash over a barrier on the Qiantang river at Haining, in east China's Zhejiang province. About 20 people were injured when they were caught too close to the river while viewing the annual tidal bore, which occurs when sea water from an unusually high tide funnels into the river, creating high waves. (AP Photo) #

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South Korea's Kim Deok-hyeon competes in the qualification for the Men's Triple Jump at the World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea, Friday, Sept. 2, 2011. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) #

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Libyans celebrate with their new flag at Martyrs Square in Tripoli on September 1, 2011. AFP PHOTO/ FRANCISCO LEONG #

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Afghan refugee boys play on a homemade swing as they celebrate the second day of Eid al-Fitr festival which marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011. Eid, one of the most important holidays in the Muslim world, is marked with prayers, family reunions and other festivities. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen) #

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Louisiana National Guard helicopters dump water on a burning marsh fire in Eastern New Orleans, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) #

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Fireworks are seen in the sky over St. Basil Cathedral, left, and Spasskaya tower,right, at the International Military Music Festival Spasskaya Tower at the Red Square in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011. Festival was opening on Wednesday in Moscow for five days. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel) #

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Iranian women perform their Eid al-Fitr prayer, at the Imam Sq. in the city of Isfahan some 234 mile (390 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday Aug. 31, 2011. Eid al-Fitr is the Islamic holiday that comes at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi) #

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In this photo taken Monday, Aug. 29, 2011, North Korean children perform at a theater in Rason, North Korea. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan) #

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A reveler throws tomato pulp during the annual "Tomatina" tomato fight fiesta in the village of Bunol, near Valencia, Spain, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011. Bunol's town hall estimated more than 40,000 people, some from as far away as Japan and Australia, took up arms Wednesday and pelted each other with 120 tons of ripe tomatoes in the yearly food fight known as the 'Tomatina' now in its 66th year. (AP Photo/Alberto Saiz) #

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A Pakistani Muslim buys a balloon for his child as he leaves after offering prayers of Eid al Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, in Karachi, Pakistan, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011. Eid, one of the most important holidays in the Muslim world, is marked with prayers, family reunions and other festivities. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan) #

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In this photo taken Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011, a man stands on the bow of the North Korean leisure boat the "Mangyongbong" during its trial cruise to Mount Kumgang resort from the port of Rason, North Korea. Since South Korean tourists have been barred from the luxury resort, known abroad as Diamond Mountain, North Korea has begun courting Chinese and other international tourists. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan) #

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An Indian Muslim man offers Eid al-Fitr prayers at the Jama Masjid mosque in New Delhi on August 31, 2011. Muslims around the world celebrated Eid al-Fitr which marks the end of the month of Ramadan, after the sighting of the new crescent moon. (Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images) #

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A woman with fingers painted in the colours of the Libyan flag celebrates in Martyrs Square (formerly Green Square under Kadhafi) in Tripoli on August 30, 2011. Thousands of Libyans gathered in the square to celebrate the success of rebel fighters against Colonel Gaddafi's forces and the beginning of the Muslim festival Eid. AFP PHOTO / Carl de Souza #

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An Indian villager throws a fishing net into the River Brahmaputra at Suwalkuchi, west of Gauhati, India, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011. (AP Photo/ Anupam Nath) #

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Habiba Osman Ahmed,seated with her two children in a makeshift shelter in Dollow refugee camp in southern Somalia, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011. She was a former farmer, but since Somalia's 20-year civil war pushed the drought into famine, everything has changed. Now she doesn't even have a pot to cook in, and must share with another family. She will wait patiently while they finish their food before preparing her own. (AP Photo/Khalil Senosi) #

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An Indian Muslim woman poses showing her hands decorated with mehendi (henna) during 'Chand Raat' or 'Night of the Moon' in Hyderabad on August 30, 2011, traditionally held on the eve of the festival of Eid al-Fitr. Muslims all over the world began Eid-al-Fitr celebrations at the sighting of the crescent moon, marking the end of Muslim's holy fasting month of Ramadan. AFP PHOTO / Noah SEELAM #

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Camels stand on the motorway between Misrata and Sirte, on August 30, 2011. Libyan rebles were advancing towards Syrte, fallen leader Moamer Kadhafi's hometown and the last bastion of loyalists. AFP PHOTO / Filippo MONTEFORTE #

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Indian Muslims pray outside the Jama mosque during the holy month of Ramadan in New Delhi, India, Monday, Aug. 29, 2011. Muslims are preparing to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan.(AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh) #

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Seen from overhead, a Pakistani youth reads verses of the Quran while attending a religious class during the holy fasting month of Ramadan in a Mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, Aug. 29, 2011. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen) #

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An Afghan girl begs for alms outside a mosque in the city of Jalalabad the provincial capital of Nangarhar province east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul) #

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