May 1988: An Afghan soldier hands a flag in solidarity to a departing Soviet soldier in Kabul on the first day of the army’s withdrawal from Afghanistan © Robert Nickelsberg
September 1989: Afghans in the Babur Gardens perform the attan, a traditional Afghan folk dance in Kabul © Robert Nickelsberg
May 1990: Arab Al Qaeda members and Afghan mujahideen jog at the Zhawar training camp in Khost province, Afghanistan © Robert Nickelsberg
April 1992: Afghan Uzbek fighters under the control of Abdul Rashid Dostum fire on Hizb-i-Islami forces of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in the southwest part of Kabul, during the mujahideen seizure of the city. The takeover of Kabul became a battle between mujahideen groups, divided along ethnic and geographic regions, attempting to seize control of key ministries © Robert Nickelsberg
March 1993: Two Afghans help a wounded civilian through cross fire during a battle between rival factions in Kabul © Robert Nickelsberg
September 1996: Taliban soldiers fire a rocket at retreating forces of the Northern Alliance army north of Kabul. The capital fell to the Taliban on September 27, 1996. The Kabul government’s defenses collapsed with little resistance to the Taliban advance © Robert Nickelsberg
December 2001: Captured Pakistani Taliban prisoners 35 kms north of Kabul in Charikar, Afghanistan. The Pakistanis were captured outside of Kabul after fighting with Northern Alliance troops. All are from Punjab province in Pakistan and were trained at a religious center called Balakhot, in Faisalabad. They were recruited by Jaish-i-Mohammad, a militant islamic group believed to be associated with Osama bin Laden © Robert Nickelsberg
January 1996: A Taliban mullah speaks to a crowd gathered in central in Kabul after Taliban forces took control from the Rabbani government © Robert Nickelsberg
March 2002: US Army Sergeant Major Dennis Carey of the 10th Mountain Division looks over a dead al Qaeda or Taliban fighter March 16, 2002 in the Shah-i-Kot Valley, Afghanistan. The position was involved in heavy firing against US soldiers when Operation Anaconda began March 2, 2002. US Air Force planes took out the position. It is believed Arab and Chechen members of al Qaeda occupied Shah-i-Kot Valley positions © Robert Nickelsberg
August 2009: US marines from the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion hold a briefing after a patrol in Khan Neshin, Helmand province © Robert Nickelsberg
May 2013: A gardener speaks on his cell phone while watering a park in the newly-developed Omid-e Sabz district of western Kabul © Robert Nickelsberg
May 2013: A contingent of American troops conclude their tour in Afghanistan and prepare to fly home from Bagram Air Base. Others arrive, wearing their helmets © Robert Nickelsberg
Photographer Robert Nickelsberg puts 25 years of Afghan history into context in his photobook Afghanistan: A Distant War
Robert Nickelsberg’s Afghanistan: A Distant War isn’t a photobook, to say it is would be underselling it. Complete with maps, profiles of the main protagonists, and essays written by Jon Lee Anderson, Steve Coll, Ahmed Rashid and Tim McGirk among others, A Distant War is a sort of history book, putting into context 25 years of turbulent adversarial conflicts and 25 years of reporting. As Anderson writes in the book’s foreword, “Americans, like most people, tend to record history capriciously, holding certain events close for a time and when their perceived relevance has passed, discard them.” But Nickelsberg is different. For 25 years, on assignment for Time magazine and The New York Times, the photojournalist has gone back to Afghanistan, recording its troubled history from the end of the Cold War to the Taliban rise to power – which made “covering the war harder,” writes Nickeslberg – and the inevitable American quagmire following the 9/11 attacks.
Now, as the US is preparing to bring home its last soldiers, the war rages on in Afghanistan. “The country that for some Americans had become synonymous with global destiny is already fading from view,” writes Anderson. “and soon, once again, Afghanistan will become a distant war.”
Robert Nickelsberg’s Afghanistan: A Distant War is published by Prestel (www.prestel.com) and is available now. It retails at £40.