The War Diaries

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Archive for the ‘Afghanistan’ Category

Afghanistan-Where It All Began

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Riding atop a lorry packed with donated grains as we make our way back to Taloqan after it had fallen out of Taliban control. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

Riding atop a lorry packed with donated grains as we make our way back to Taloqan after it had fallen out of Taliban control. These IDPs were so eager to return home from the camps around Khawaja Bahauddin. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I spent a fascinating week down in central South Carolina at Shaw AFB lecturing on the socio-political and religio-cultural dynamics of the Levant. Within the sessions discussing the current state of affairs in the Arab and Kurdish world, it was impossible not to look back on Afghanistan in order to understand where we are today.  I don’t have time to do a full on blog post but the talk at USARCENT had me wanting to quickly look at my archives.

I will never forget this time. It was my first experience in a full scale war. That stays with you forever.

A pair of Chinook helicopters take off at sunset in Khwaja Bahauddin in November 2001. ©2001 Derek henry Flood

A pair of Chinook helicopters take off at sunset in Khwaja Bahauddin in November 2001. ©2001 Derek henry Flood

A Jamiat-e-Islami radio may on a hill outside Konduz. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

A Jamiat-e-Islami radio may on a hill outside Konduz. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

An American soldiers stands at dusk among a crowd of IDPs and Jamiat supporters on a USAID escort mission. ©2001 Derek henry Flood

An American soldiers stands at dusk among a crowd of IDPs and Jamiat supporters on a USAID escort mission. At the beginning, the war in Afghanistan had the feel of armed humanitarianism. ©2001 Derek henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

August 23rd, 2015 at 3:31 pm

Posted in Afghanistan

Dust and Urethane from Kabul to NYC

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Click on flyer for map in New York's Lower East Side

Click on flyer for map to gallery in New York’s Lower East Side

New York- Skateboarders Kenny Reed and Louisa Menke have published a handsome edition of their photographs of skateboarding in Afghanistan in 2009 with Vanderbooks of Rotterdam. They will be hosting a book release party this Saturday May 2nd at the Marlborough Gallery’s Broom Street location in downtown Manhattan. Come one, come all!Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 8.11.37 PM

Written by derekhenryflood

April 29th, 2015 at 5:48 pm

A Home in Defence

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The residence in the Defence Housing Authority in Karachi, Pakistan where Daniel Pearl departed on January 23, 2002 never to return. ©2008 Derek Henry Flood

The residence in the Defence Housing Authority (HDA) an upscale residential neighbourhood  in Karachi, Pakistan where Daniel Pearl departed on January 23, 2002 never to return. ©2008 Derek Henry Flood

New York- An image I shot back in 2008 in Karachi was employed to tell the tragic story of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl’s disappearance and murder in the early days of the War on Terror. The programme, titled Witness: Remembering Daniel Pearl’s murder aired on BBC on 17 February.

Pearl’s gruesome beheading was a watershed moment in the post-9/11 period. More than two years on, the beheadings of Nick Berg in Iraq and Paul Johnson in Riyadh signaled a spate of horrific online violence where the internet became a conduit devoid of the most fundamental human dignity. With the recent beheading videos coming out of Syria, the Pearl case now in hindsight appears to have been a template, albeit a comparatively more elaborate plot, for the terror that was to come. Orchestrating such brazen executions in the cause of supposed ‘defensive’ jihad in salafi Islam seems to have become a norm.

I remember being gripped by the Pearl case after returning home from covering the war in Afghanistan and hoping against hope for a positive outcome. I’d done my university thesis in Pakistan in late 2000 which provided me with the last glimpse of the ummah before Afghanistan. I’d mixed with petty traders, warm tailors, drug dealing scoundrels with wild stories to tell from the frontier, gem stone smugglers, and gun runners. My memory of the country was fond. The hostage drama that unfolded had me reexamining my own experiences in the country.

Then in 2008 I walked in his and the plotters footsteps in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, and Karachi to create the visual narrative for a report being done in Washington by a student group at Georgetown University. When it was finally published in January 2011, I barely had a moment to reflect upon it as the Arab uprisings were in full force, leading me to cover the war in Libya.

More of my images and the completed projected can be viewed in a free e-book called The Truth Left Behind: Inside the Kidnapping and Murder of Daniel Pearl.

Written by derekhenryflood

February 18th, 2015 at 7:12 pm

When an Anniversary Becomes History

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A mother holds her daughter while gazing at the plume in the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11. To their left TV crews prepare to broadcast. This never before seen image was made adjacent the River Cafe on Brooklyn's DUMBO waterfront at approximately 8pm after the suicide attacks killed nearly 3000. ©2001 Derek Henry Floo

A mother holds her daughter while gazing at the plume in the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11. To their left a TV crew prepares for a live broadcast. This never before seen image was made adjacent the River Cafe on Brooklyn’s DUMBO waterfront at approximately 8pm after the suicide attacks killed nearly 3000. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

Barcelona- Today is just another 9/11 anniversary it seems. On twitter, everyone is consumed by Obama’s speech last night vowing to “destroy” the so-called caliphate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The brutality of al-Qaeda has been rhetorically lessened with foolish tracts saying that Ayman al-Zawahiri disowned Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s movement because AQ 1.0 was put off by IS’s even harsher methods as if there has been a collective forgetting of what al-Qaeda and its allies have done over the years. This is an absurd assertion.

The split is based more on divisive interpretations of salafi ideology, a supreme contest of egos within a very violent subculture, and plain envy. Bin Laden was not primarily a takfiri (one who maintains the authority to declare lesser Muslims or minorities within its reach ‘apostates’) but in his alliance with the Deobandi Taliban he was simultaneously focused on both the near and far enemies. Baghdadi has thus far been more narrowly focused in constructing his personality cult whereby the desired targets of IS’s aggression are the Shia and other related sects and those affiliated with regional regimes they deem worthy of death. To say one group is more ‘brutal’ than the other is a futile comparison. It is far more about the ebb and flow on the centers of power within trends in global militancy than a zero sum game.

Here in Barcelona, it’s Onze de Setembre (National Day of Catalonia), a celebration of Catalan martyrdom that is experienced as hyper localized nationalism. Drums beat, scooters beep and a rivalry in the heart of the first world rages on.

To me, it is simply 9/11.

For a solid decade I would return from wherever I was in the world to New York to document the goings on at the World Trade Center which for many years was referred to simply as ‘Ground Zero.’ For all of the anniversaries I attended in order to document, I did so without accreditation except for the final one–the 10th–when I applied for permission from the Bloomberg administration to photograph the two visiting presidents. That last few years since the 2011 shoot, I haven’t returned to the World Trade Center.

Yesterday here in Catalunya it was in fact the furthest thing from my mind as I hung out with friends at the beach in Barceloneta. Nor did I think about the assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud either. Things that I have felt and witnessed and people I once knew who have died have since been enveloped into history as once so viscerally palpable anniversaries have often morphed into more ordinary days as the healing current of time passes by.

People observe a moment of silence in remembrance of the 5 year anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks at the former site of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

People observe a moment of silence in Zuccotti Park in remembrance of the 5 year anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks at the former site of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

We often think of history in a linear form comprised of a 365 day year based on  the Gregorian calendar with momentous anniversaries in one-year increments up until the 5th year and in five year increments thereafter (and later potentially being noted in 10 year increments) i.e. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th anniversaries being momentous and then culminating (for now) at the 10th which forms a time capsule known as a ‘decade.’

But for the people directly affected, is today’s 13th anniversary any less significant than the 1st back in 2002, the 5th in 2006 or the 10th in 2011?  History as we live it is a living, breathing organism. Time never does stand still. I may be in the fever of minority linguistic politics here along the western Mediterranean as if Franco died yesterday but I cannot escape the track in which the events that day 13 years ago defined the course of my adult life. Though I no longer rush back to New York to document the day, it will forever remain in my aching heart.

A giant projection outside the WTC memorial shows family members reciting the names of the nearly 3000 killed on 9/11. President Barack Obama Michelle Obama George W. Bush and Laura Bush look on as families of the victims speak from the podium. ©2011 Derek Henry Floo

A giant projection outside the WTC memorial shows family members reciting the names of the nearly 3000 killed on 9/11. President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, George W. Bush, and Laura Bush, look on behind bullet-proof glass as families of the victims speak from a podium. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

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September 11th, 2014 at 6:49 am

Out the Window

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Room with a view. In the comfort of the EU with mind adrift on other places. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Room with a view. In the comfort of the EU with my mind adrift in other places. Barcelona is obviously home to the age-old vociferous Catalan separatist movement but all in life is relative. In terms of veracity, when one looks at other realms of separatism in the east that invoke large-scale political violence and weave in acts of state-sponsoered terrorism, such movements in the heart of the West in Scotland, Flanders or here in Catalunya are quite tame. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Barcelona- After an egregiously long sabbatical in the chunky, ‘polar vortex’ torn streets of NYC, I finally made it back across the Atlantic. I put plans for returning to Iraq’s Green Line and Ukraine’s chaotic Donbas region on hold for the time being to work on a couple of armchair pieces. As a perennial freelancer, sometimes a sure thing outpaces an unsafe bet and so I’m remaining in the West for the moment.

I brought loads of prints over to do some more photo walls as I had been doing the previous month in Long Island City. In my original idea conceived in 2000-2001, I had wanted to plaster prints up on either side of the Euro-Atlantic community to pique interest in the historical juncture of Central-South Asia in order to bring attention to that region’s political maelstrom by appealing to the public with its beauty. Such was not to be.

As I’ve alluded to in prior posts, those plans were imediately tosed out the window after 9/11 because it was going to involve obtaining an Islamic Emirate visa for Afghanistan which was immediately unrealistic despite my efforts of reaching out to members of the Taliban in Peshawar, Pakistan and Flushing, Queens just before the attacks.

Now well over a decade on, I hope to close that loop albeit under far different circumstances. Below I’ve posted snapshots of my final two projects in the U.S. Hope to do some new ones here very soon…

My final photo installation in Long Island City, Queens. These images were shot in Takhar, Badakhshan, Balkh and Kunduz Provinces, Afghanistan over the span of a month in November 2001. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

My final photo installation in Long Island City, Queens. These images were shot in Takhar, Badakhshan, Balkh and Kunduz Provinces, Afghanistan over the span of a month in November 2001. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

These prints were from an exhibit I did in the fall of 2008 on the stateless Rohingya crisis. I shot these on the Teknaf River that marks the Bangladesh-Burma border. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

These prints were from an exhibit I did in the fall of 2008 on the stateless Rohingya crisis. I shot these on the Teknaf River that marks the Bangladesh-Burma border. I put these up near the entrance to the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. When a Triborough Bridge policeman asked me what the hell exactly was I doing, I reflexively responded that I was beautifying a blighted area. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

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July 23rd, 2014 at 10:09 am

Afghanistan: The Succession Crisis

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Ghani the technocrat. Posters of incumbent Hamid Karzai and opposition candidate Ashraf Ghani hang from a lamp post during the August 2009 election campaign. ©2009 Derek Henry Flood

Ghani the World Banker technocrat. Posters of then incumbent Hamid Karzai (whose fraudulent reelection was all but assured) and opposition candidate Ashraf Ghani hung from a lamp post during the August 2009 election campaign. In 2009 Ghani garnered about 3% of the vote and Abdullah was Karzai’s only real threat. ©2009 Derek Henry Flood

New York- Persistent crises in Ukraine and Iraq, and now of course the reoccurring terror in Gaza, have overshadowed the succession impasse in Kabul to a good degree in terms of media focus. Afghanistan is at yet another perilous crossroads that has threatened to fissure the country in a manner that hasn’t been seen since 2001 when Mullah Omar’s Islamic Emirate abutted Burhanuddin Rabbbani and Ahmad Shah Massoud’s Islamic State of Afghanistan.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 7.09.53 PMIn the mindset of the two warring parties, they theoretically both occupied the same administrative space. Going to the Afghan consulate in Peshawar in 2000 and going then to the Afghan embassy in Ankara in 2001, both sets of representatives would tell the visitor that their faction were Afghanistan’s rightful rulers. Although functionally on the ground the two political entities respectively operated failing large and small rump states. Fears have been running high in Afghanistan in 2014 as it tries to make the very awkward transition beyond the years of rule by Hamid Karzai who has effectively been in power continuously since the Bonn Agreement in December 2001.

I have a new article out in IHS Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst (subscription required) entitled “Electoral turmoil-Afghanistan’s Troubled Democracy Faces uncertain future.” Just after its publication John Kerry brokered a deal between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah’s campaigns that was hailed as a potential lifesaver for Afghanistan’s still nascent democracy.

Importantly Kerry’s hoped for diplomatic initiative may nail down the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that Karzai has obstinately refused to sign. The unsigned BSA has left Washington and its remaining allies’ Afghan policy in limbo for some time now.

What is being referred to as a “national unity government” may perhaps end up as a power sharing agreement in which presidential power is lessened and the post of prime minister is created to satisfy the ambitions of both striving candidates. And where does all this leave Mr. Karzai himself?

For now he is still Afghanistan’s head of state where he is all too comfortable after so many years of relative isolation. The newly elected president was meant to be inaugurated  on August 2, a now wholly unrealistic time frame. With the staggering vote recount prescribed to heal the rift between Ghani and Abdullah–who both view themselves is the election’s true winner– again, Karzai remains politically relevant in the interim.

The Salang Pass situated  Hindu Kush range in Baghlan Province. ©2008 Derek Henry Flood

The Salang Pass situated Hindu Kush range in Baghlan Province is a critical land route juncture heading toward Pul-e-Khumri situated between northern and southern Afghanistan. This mountain pass represents a human, geographic and political fault line that has not properly healed since the internecine mujahideen battles of the 1990s . ©2008 Derek Henry Flood

One question that has yet to be answered is what will become of the current president once this situation is ultimately resolved? Will Karzai immediately flee to Dubai or Doha upon leaving the Arg (Presidential Palace)? Karzai has said he will stay home but in doing so he will risk retribution by the Taliban or being trotted about in court on corruption charges by an emboldened new government seeking credibility following yet another grossly flawed balloting process.

Lastly what will the new government look like and how should it act? After an uninterrupted period of post-Taliban Karzai rule, Afghanistan clearly has a long way to go to become a genuinely working democratic state. With that said, Afghans have made more progress with democratic mechanisms than many of their neighbors to the north in despotic Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan excepted).

Personally I hope the crisis created but the April 5 and June 14 votes can be amicably mended. But I am not as hopeful as Mr. Kerry for the time being.

Written by derekhenryflood

July 14th, 2014 at 5:12 pm

Getting Up on the 4th of July

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Two images from Kunduz Province, Afghanistan, November 2001. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Two images from Kunduz Province, Afghanistan, November 2001. Top is of a pair of T-62 tanks that were supplied the Jamiat-e-Islami/Shura-e-Nazar by the Russians via their proxies in Dushanbe. Below is a cluster of martyr’s graves between Taloqan and Kunduz that were killed in clashes with the Taliban, Sipah-e-Sahaba and the 055 Brigades that autumn. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

New York- This past Friday evening while crowds were frantically swarming toward the rapidly developing Queens waterfront for the annual fireworks display celebrating American independence, I quietly maneuvered around the outer borough’s Long Island City neighborhood doing another photo installation. I pulled from my collection of old prints all of which are over a decade old.

My print of the Malwiyya tower of the Grand Mosque in Samarra, Iraq. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

My print of the Malwiyya tower of the Grand Mosque in Samarra, Iraq. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

I wanted to do a small gesture to note the events and geographies that are behind where the United States stands in the world today. These places and the images that denote them are also a part of who I am in regard to my own personal history.

From left to right: Darra Adam Khel, November 2000, Peshawar, November, 2000, Salalah, Oman, November, 2000. ©2014 Derek henry Flood

From left to right: Craig ‘Bones’ Martin, a wilding Australian adventurer firing a Kalashnikov for a few hundred rupee thrill, Darra Adam Khel, Pakistan, November 2000; sunset and moonrise, Peshawar, Pakistan, November 2000; men playing the ancient game of Hawalis (known as Bao in East Africa), Salalah, Oman, November 2000. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

My friend Charlie Rhyu jumping the waterfall-style fountain at the Jonas Salk Institute, La Jolla, California on July 4th, 2000. We had to do this shoot on the 4th as it was the only time we would not have been stopped by security.  ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

My friend Charlie Rhyu jumping the waterfall-style fountain at the [Jonas] Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California on July 4th, 2000. We had to do this shoot on the 4th as it was the only time we would not have been stopped by security. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

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July 8th, 2014 at 4:27 pm

The Gateway

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A close up of my art installation in Queen's, New York's Long Island City neighborhood. From left to right: 9/11 as seen from Brooklyn, the Arg-e-Bam (before its destruction in a 2003 earthquake), the USS Nimitz in Coronado, California shortly before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the Abassi masjid next to the Derawar Fort in the Cholistan Desert, Punjab Province, Pakistan.

A close up of my art installation in Queens, New York’s Long Island City neighborhood. From left to right: 9/11 as seen from Brooklyn, the Arg-e-Bam (before its destruction in a 2003 earthquake) in Kerman province, Iran, the USS Nimitz in Coronado, California shortly before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the Abassi masjid next to the Derawar Fort in the Cholistan Desert, Punjab Province, Pakistan.

New York-The other wekend I finally got around to a rather simple task that I’d wanted to do over a decade back. Before 9/11 I had a vision of doing guerrilla art installations around New York and other major Western cities to explain to the rest of the world (or at least urbanized Western city dwellers) about what was going on in Afghanistan well beyond the bellicosity of the Taliban movement and its international critics. Afghanistan at that time was incredibly isolated in terms of the global economy and its discordant political representation abroad. I wanted people to understand Afghanistan in a pre-1979 sense.

I was inspired by the splendid per-war imagery of a Vermont-based photographer named Luke Powell who’d shot vivid landscape images of Afghanistan’s valleys and monuments that conveyed a powerful message about the country’s history and culture in a way that no day-to-day news image of war and pestilence ever could. What was remarkable to me about Powell’s photographs was that I found pirated versions of his prints hanging in the bazaars of Peshawar, Chitral, Quetta and so forth. His images had credibility amongst Afghans themselves as well as Pakistani bazaaris.

I had wanted to emulate an updated version of this concept and combine it with the illicit poster art craze of the late 1990s and early 2000s to create and artistic meme with a message.  Beauty with a subtle educational agenda. I was in sporadic communication with the Taliban before 9/11 in hopes of them granting me access to the territory they controlled literally or nominally.

Imagery in the urban ether.

Imagery in the urban ether.

Then I woke up one morning in September and was suddenly inhaling ash pedaling as fast as I could muster to the World trade Center. In an instant I went from being a pragmatic idealist to a witness to the brutality of our living history. A series of rather absurd starkly bifurcated polemics would quickly follow: the 9/11-everything-changed-sts and the 9/11-nothing-changed-ists and the with-us or with-the-terrorists.

I still have not entirely given up on those original ideas, just procrastinated to the point of near abandonment. I was looking for something in a dusty drawer and came across these old prints from 2000-2003 which were beginning to yellow ever so slightly at the edges. I finally went to slap them up in a nondescript locale. Better late than never as is said.

I still hope to do a coffee table book of the best of these prints someday but rather than with an über cool northern Italian, London or Brooklyn-based publishing house I will most likely self-publish The Fabled City (as my project was known before 9/11). As I’m not even remotely close to being a famous photojournalist in that industry’s coveted inner circles, self-publishing via Blurb or something similar is probably the only way forward for me at this point. I see this initial installation as a step toward–a gateway if you will–that goal.

Written by derekhenryflood

June 10th, 2014 at 3:12 pm