As the United States and the world wait for the war in Afghanistan to come to a close, so do the allied soldiers still on the ground in the tumultuous country.
Photojournalist Andrew Burton traveled to the region in January and again in March to get a better understanding of the war.
“Basically all of (my time in) high school and college, we were a country at war, and it was my generation fighting that war,” Burton said after returning to the United States. “I really wanted to have a better understanding of what that looked like.”
Before his arrival, Burton had mostly heard reports of the green-on-blue attacks happening around Afghanistan, meaning Afghan soldiers attacking and often killing soldiers from the International Security Assistance Force, a NATO organization armed by soldiers from 46 countries including the United States.
This type of attack has made headlines quite a bit in the past few years and as recently as May 4 when an Afghan counterpart killed two ISAF soldiers.
Instead of placing him with a unit facing difficult relationships with their Afghan counterparts, the U.S. Army sent Burton to the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry, whose relationships were less rocky.
On the ground, Burton saw the Afghan soldiers physically taking the lead on missions with American soldiers acting as support.
Since the surge of U.S. troops ended in September 2012, preparing Afghan soldiers for the complete withdrawal of Americans in 2014 has become the priority, Burton said.
“I hadn’t really seen anyone looking at that,” Burton said. “The Afghans leading from the front.”
Burton began searching for symbolic imagery in the training exercises, missions and base life that showed the waiting game most of the soldiers were playing.
They are waiting for the longest war in U.S. history to end, just as the American public is waiting, Burton said.
Burton’s perception of the general attitude among the soldiers was that “nobody was paying attention to what they were doing.”
“But they had signed up because they wanted to be soldiers, and they were excited to be there,” he said.
Whether the public pays attention or not, Burton believes that certain events demand a visual historic record, which is how he approached documenting a war that is slowly coming to an end.
Burton photographed during a time when most Taliban soldiers retreat to Pakistan for the duration of winter, thus there were less gun battles in American soldiers’ daily routines.
Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs, have been a defining weapon for Taliban soldiers, and they are triggered multiple times a week in the region Burton was located, he said.
Troops work to locate and detonate the explosives before any harm can be done, but there are so many of these remainders of the war that not all can be found before they cause injury, Burton said.
Referring to two locals, a man and young girl, who had set off an IED and were treated at the U.S. base, image 7, Burton said, “It was a lot harder to edit those images and relook at what I’d seen."
Since his departure from Afghanistan, soldiers he is in contact with have told him that the fighting has picked back up; the season of war has sprung again.
Burton hopes to return to the country to continue his story of Afghan leadership.
“I’d like to document the Afghan army leading those fights,” he said.
- Clint Alwahab, CNN