1986: Afghan Mujahideen in the United States

I am doing some historical research for a new photography project that focuses on childhood, memory, and pop culture during the 1980s in the United States.

In my hunt for images from this era to build my photography project, I came upon a poignant and curious collection of photographs from 1986 of Afghan mujahideen, or “freedom fighters” as they were called then.

As I think about my own experience during that time period, I realize that many of my memories are shaped by the nightly news, which my father watched religiously every evening.

I can still vividly recall the images on the television of Afghan mujahideen, some holding Kalashnikov rifles, others holding Stingers, the lethal anti-aircraft missiles used to fight Soviet aircraft.

To a little girl in the midwest, the mujahideen seemed strong and ascendant. But most of all, they were on our side.

At the time, I was too young to understand the politics of the Afghan-Soviet war and the critical role of the mujahideen, the United States, as well as Pakistan in shaping the Soviet defeat. Yet, stumbling upon these images brought back surprising childhood memories.

In one set of images, American medics transport mujahideen on an aircraft from Afghanistan to the United States for treatment.

In another, some mujahideen who have been taken to the United States for treatment participate in a press conference at the San Bernardino Community Hospital in California to share their stories.

The photographs of the Afghan men tell a sad story. They are physically disfigured with looks of stress, despair, and confusion, as if they woke up in Oz. The American medics desperate attempts to treat injuries on the aircraft are just as tragic.

With the United States fighting a different war in Afghanistan today, the camera does its job in reminding us of all that war entails, and just how fickle national security can be in its pragmatism and alliances.

Read More:

Portraits of War – The Washington Post

Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 by Steve Coll

Migrations: Humanity in Transition by Sebastião Salgado


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