Afghanistan: The Photographs That Moved Them Most

James Nachtwey for TIME
James Nachtwey for TIME
James Nachtwey, November 22, 2001

"The carefully negotiated hand-over of the city of Kunduz might be as good a reference as any to comprehend the reality of peace agreements in Afghanistan. Located in the north, near Uzbekistan, Kunduz was the last major stronghold of the Taliban following its withdrawal from Kabul. It had been under siege by the Northern Alliance, and an agreement was forged in which Taliban fighters would surrender in exchange for safe passage, and the city would be occupied by the alliance.

For a couple of days, the Taliban began to drive out to their enemy’s lines and relinquish their weapons. On the appointed day, a large convoy of Northern Alliance troops moved forward. As it entered the city center, the remaining Taliban fighters opened fire from every direction. Chaos ensued. Both incoming and outgoing fire, from assault rifles, machine guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers was so dense and haphazard, one was as dangerous as the other, no matter which side you happened to be on. It was impossible to figure out where to take cover. Survival would be a matter of luck, and every moment carried the expectation of being hit.

When the shooting was finished, the dead and dying were scattered about the streets. This Taliban fighter had been shot in the stomach and was slowly and painfully slipping away. The peaceful hand-over was later trumped by the guarantee of safe passage, in which dozens of Taliban who had turned themselves in were suffocated to death in the shipping container that was supposedly being used to transport them to a secure location."

Today, on the 12th anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan, TIME asks 40 renowned photographers to reflect on their harrowing experiences covering the conflict—and to describe which of their own photographs moved them most.

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