Tora Bora. December 2001
A dead Afghan soldier killed by an airstrike defending an Al Qaida mountain base in Tora Bora. December 2001.
This soldier was killed during an intense fight for a mountain pass between NATO Special Forces supported by the US Air Force and the Afghan Northern Alliance.
A small group of writers, photographers and a television journalist were living and working in the mountains near Tora Bora. Amongst them were Alain Buu, James Nachtwey, David Guttenfelder, Alex Majoli and Enrico Dagnino. James, David, Enrico and Alex were living in a nasty sweat lodge in the village, Alain and I commuted up the mountain from Jalalabad everyday with supplies of fresh fruit and tea.
We knew that NATO were hunting Osama Bin Laden in the area – but the terrain made reporting the fighting very difficult. We waited for days at a mountain pass near the village of Tora Bora photographing the Northern Alliance and listening to airstrikes and the sound of NATO small arms fire in the near distance. Al Qaida were close. When we tried to move from hill to hill we would be shot at by inaccurate sniper fire. It wasn’t too dangerous but it made us thoughtful and kept us away from the frontline never-the-less. CNN’s mercenaries, Afghans lead by a British ex-soldier added an unexpected aggravation as they spent more energy trying to prevent other journalists getting to the story than they did protecting CNN.
I can’t remember now how many days we were up there but it was at the end of a long assignation, from September 13th until mid December and time dragged, we were keen to get home. The USAF bombed the hills very hard using weapons they call Daisy Cutters, these weapons explode shrapnel over a vast area and rip apart anything in its path. Trees were severed, woodland turned into a field of charred stumps. When we emerged from the depression we were hiding in (out of range of the shrapnel) we were not shot at by the snipers, so we figured it was safe to move. About 30 minutes away we came across a small group of fighters who had been killed – I photographed them quickly but moved on to find space away from my friends. On an adjacent hill I found this man. He was lying there with his face looking to the airspace the B52 that killed him had occupied, almost as if he were resting. It took me a moment to see that he had been cut in two and reassembled but with his face up and his feet pointing down. I admired then and I admire now the friendship and courage of the men who pieced him together, covered his wounds and laid him to rest under such conditions before they fled through the mountains.