Afghanistan Dispatch

On Assignment: "Shooting" Special Forces

NPR photographer David Gilkey is back in Afghanistan and just completed what seems like a pretty tough photo assignment — not because of violence or physical exertion, but because of who he was photographing.

Green Berets, the U.S. Army's Special Forces, have recently teamed up with the Afghan army's first-ever special forces team in a grass-roots effort to secure the Kandahar region. Village by village, the soldiers are encouraging Afghan civilians to resist Taliban intimidation with armed community watch groups. But the biggest challenge is still communication.

The Afghan-American military cooperation is a fascinating turn of events, but a tough one to photograph; special forces soldiers can't give their names or show their faces.

This is what Gilkey sent back.

  • Two members of the Afghan army's first-ever special operations team in southern Afghanistan. The team was deployed in the field just weeks ago and has been joined by teams of U.S. Army Special Forces in a collaborative security effort outside of Kandahar city.
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    Two members of the Afghan army's first-ever special operations team in southern Afghanistan. The team was deployed in the field just weeks ago and has been joined by teams of U.S. Army Special Forces in a collaborative security effort outside of Kandahar city.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Capt. Dan of the Green Berets (the U.S. Army Special Forces can only give journalists their first names) on patrol in the village of Ezabad. Together, the American and Afghan special forces are conducting what they call "village stability operations."
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    Capt. Dan of the Green Berets (the U.S. Army Special Forces can only give journalists their first names) on patrol in the village of Ezabad. Together, the American and Afghan special forces are conducting what they call "village stability operations."
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Afghan army special forces Capt. Dost is working with the Green Berets and, in most cases, taking the lead. The joint mission aims to provide security, plan development projects and encourage Afghan villagers to resist the Taliban with armed community watch groups.
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    Afghan army special forces Capt. Dost is working with the Green Berets and, in most cases, taking the lead. The joint mission aims to provide security, plan development projects and encourage Afghan villagers to resist the Taliban with armed community watch groups.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Capt. Dost (left) talks with a local resident in Ezabad in Afghanistan's Kandahar province. While American efforts may fall on deaf ears, Afghan villagers have been inclined to facilitate the efforts of the Afghan special forces.
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    Capt. Dost (left) talks with a local resident in Ezabad in Afghanistan's Kandahar province. While American efforts may fall on deaf ears, Afghan villagers have been inclined to facilitate the efforts of the Afghan special forces.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • A U.S. armored vehicle makes its way through the desert outside Ezabad. While the U.S. Army Special Forces mentor their Afghan counterparts in counterinsurgency tactics, they also benefit from the Afghans' knowledge of local culture and customs.
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    A U.S. armored vehicle makes its way through the desert outside Ezabad. While the U.S. Army Special Forces mentor their Afghan counterparts in counterinsurgency tactics, they also benefit from the Afghans' knowledge of local culture and customs.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • An Afghan family rides past a joint U.S.-Afghan patrol in Ezabad. Special forces aim to train communities to protect themselves. But they must first gain the trust of local Afghans, and overcome the mistrust caused by local police corruption.
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    An Afghan family rides past a joint U.S.-Afghan patrol in Ezabad. Special forces aim to train communities to protect themselves. But they must first gain the trust of local Afghans, and overcome the mistrust caused by local police corruption.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • American and Afghan forces stop to talk with villagers on the road outside Ezabad.
    Hide caption
    American and Afghan forces stop to talk with villagers on the road outside Ezabad.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • An American Special Forces officer talks with a local farmer in Ezabad, encouraging him to join a village defense force against the Taliban.
    Hide caption
    An American Special Forces officer talks with a local farmer in Ezabad, encouraging him to join a village defense force against the Taliban.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • A young boy in Ezabad watches as Green Berets and Afghan soldiers interview his older brother.
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    A young boy in Ezabad watches as Green Berets and Afghan soldiers interview his older brother.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • A U.S. Special Forces explosives-detection dog cools off in an irrigation ditch in Ezabad during a joint U.S.-Afghan patrol.
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    A U.S. Special Forces explosives-detection dog cools off in an irrigation ditch in Ezabad during a joint U.S.-Afghan patrol.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • American and Afghan soldiers fire side by side during a shooting exercise in the desert near Ezabad. When not on regular patrols, the Afghan and U.S. special forces are training for the next mission.
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    American and Afghan soldiers fire side by side during a shooting exercise in the desert near Ezabad. When not on regular patrols, the Afghan and U.S. special forces are training for the next mission.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • A child approaches Green Berets on patrol in Ezabad. Special Forces use ATVs (or all-terrain vehicles) for better mobility across rough terrain and narrow village roads.
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    A child approaches Green Berets on patrol in Ezabad. Special Forces use ATVs (or all-terrain vehicles) for better mobility across rough terrain and narrow village roads.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • An Afghan commando sits on a mud wall while securing a road during a patrol in the village of Ezabad. Perhaps an auspicious beginning for cooperation between Americans and Afghans, the road ahead looks long and arduous.
    Hide caption
    An Afghan commando sits on a mud wall while securing a road during a patrol in the village of Ezabad. Perhaps an auspicious beginning for cooperation between Americans and Afghans, the road ahead looks long and arduous.
    David Gilkey/NPR

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Related stories:
In Kandahar, A Battle For Hearts, Minds
U.S. Hopes To Win Afghan Trust, Village By Village

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