Brides and Soldiers

There’s this fascinating video I saw on the web some weeks back which CNN has edited and is calling ‘Embedded with the Taliban‘.

Norwegian photojournalist Paul Refsdal spent 9 days in October 2009 with a small group of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan and it’s fascinating to see glimpses of how they live and fight.

I can’t do justice to the entire video, but one part in particular struck me: when Dawran, the band’s leader, explained why the Taliban are fighting and questions why the coalition forces are doing so. “We fight for our freedom, our religion, our honor and we fight for our land,” Dawran tells Refsdal. “For what purpose are they fighting us?”, he asks. “Are they oppressed? Have they been treated unfair? Are they living in a dictatorship?”

Fighting has always been a young man’s sport (in fact, the word ‘Taliban’ means ‘the students’), but even so it’s surprising to see how young many of the fighters are. (The previous version I saw showed even more soldiers who are obviously children or young teenagers.) I’ve heard that the average age of Taliban fighters has been dropping throughout the war, presumably because older soldiers are getting killed off by targeted strikes.

This superb photo (by Stephanie Sinclair – not from Mr. Refsdal’s documentary) won a prize from UNICEF in 2007:

(click image to enlarge)

(I apologize for the image quality. There are much larger and better-quality versions available on the web.)

In case it isn’t obvious: This is a wedding photo. It was taken shortly after this man and girl had gotten married, and shortly before he took her home and raped her.

I guess that one thing that hasn’t occurred to Dawran, the commander of the unit Mr. Refsdal visited, is that by supporting a movement that blew up Buddha statues, mistreats women, harbors al-Qaeda, and uses children (including his own) as soldiers, he is the one we consider the oppressor. He might be fighting for his “freedom”, but that it’s the freedom to abuse women and to turn children in brides and soldiers.

And perhaps we are fighting simply to get him to stop.

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