WPP 2008- Grande Prémio no Vale da Morte
“Esta imagem mostra um homem exausto. E uma nação exausta”.
Foi assim que o júri classificou esta fotografia do fotógrafo britânico Tim Hetherington, que lhe valeu o primeiro prémio World Press Photo 2008.
O trabalho, para a Vanity Fair, no Afeganistão, mostra este soldado norte-americano num bunker em Korengal.
Gary Knight, presidente do júri, diz que se trata de uma imagem de “um homem no fim da linha”. “Estamos todos ligados a esta imagem.” Foto: Tim Hetherington
Esta foto foi publicada na edição de janeiro de 2008 da Vanity Fair, neste artigo:
Into the Valley of Death
A strategic passage wanted by the Taliban and al-Qaeda, Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley is among the deadliest pieces of terrain in the world for U.S. forces. One platoon is considered the tip of the American spear. Its men spend their days in a surreal combination of backbreaking labor—building outposts on rocky ridges—and deadly firefights, while they try to avoid the mistakes the Russians made. Sebastian Junger and photographer Tim Hetherington join the platoon’s painfully slow advance, as its soldiers laugh, swear, and run for cover, never knowing which of them won’t make it home.
by Sebastian Junger January 2008
The 20 men of Second Platoon move through the village single file, keeping behind trees and stone houses and going down on one knee from time to time to cover the next man down the line. The locals know what is about to happen and are staying out of sight. We are in the village of Aliabad, in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, and the platoon radioman has received word that Taliban gunners are watching us and are about to open fire. Signals intelligence back at the company headquarters has been listening in on the Taliban field radios. They say the Taliban are waiting for us to leave the village before they shoot.
Below us is the Korengal River and across the valley is the dark face of the Abas Ghar ridge. The Taliban essentially own the Abas Ghar. The valley is six miles long, and the Americans have pushed halfway down its length. In 2005, Taliban fighters cornered a four-man navy-seal team that had been dropped onto the Abas Ghar, and killed three of them, then shot down the Chinook helicopter that was sent in to save them. All 16 commandos on board died.
Dusk is falling and the air has a kind of buzzing tension to it, as if it carries an electrical charge. We only have to cover 500 yards to get back to the safety of the firebase, but the route is wide open to Taliban positions across the valley, and the ground has to be crossed at a run. The soldiers have taken so much fire here that they named this stretch “the Aliabad 500.” Platoon leader Matt Piosa, a blond, soft-spoken 24-year-old lieutenant from Pennsylvania, makes it to a chest-high stone wall behind the village grade school, and the rest of the squad arrives behind him, laboring under the weight of their weapons and body armor. The summer air is thick and hot, and everyone is sweating like horses. Piosa and his men were here to talk to the local elder about a planned water-pipe project for the village, and I can’t help thinking that this is an awful lot of effort for a five-minute conversation.
I’m carrying a video camera and running it continually so that I won’t have to think about turning it on when the shooting starts. It captures everything my memory doesn’t. Piosa is about to leave the cover of the stone wall and push to the next bit of cover when I hear a staccato popping sound in the distance. “Contact,” Piosa says into his radio and then, “I’m pushing up here,” but he never gets the chance. The next burst comes in even tighter and the video jerks and yaws and Piosa screams, “A tracer just went right by here!” Soldiers are popping up to empty ammo clips over the top of the wall and Piosa is shouting positions into the radio and tracers from our heavy machine guns are streaking overhead into the darkening valley and a man near me shouts for someone named Buno.
Buno doesn’t answer. That’s all I remember for a while—that and being incredibly thirsty. It seems to go on for a long, long time.
The Center Cannot Hold
By many measures, Afghanistan is falling apart. The Afghan opium crop has flourished in the past two years and now represents 93 percent of the world’s supply, with an estimated street value of $38 billion in 2006. That money helps bankroll an insurgency that is now operating virtually within sight of the capital, Kabul. Suicide bombings have risen eightfold in the past two years, including several devastating attacks in Kabul, and as of October, coalition casualties had surpassed those of any previous year. The situation has gotten so bad, in fact, that ethnic and political factions in the northern part of the country have started stockpiling arms in preparation for when the international community decides to pull out. Afghans—who have seen two foreign powers on their soil in 20 years—are well aware of the limits of empire. They are well aware that everything has an end point, and that in their country end points are bloodier than most.
The Korengal is widely considered to be the most dangerous valley in northeastern Afghanistan, and Second Platoon is considered the tip of the spear for the American forces there. Nearly one-fifth of all combat in Afghanistan occurs in this valley, and nearly three-quarters of all the bombs dropped by nato forces in Afghanistan are dropped in the surrounding area. The fighting is on foot and it is deadly, and the zone of American control moves hilltop by hilltop, ridge by ridge, a hundred yards at a time. There is literally no safe place in the Korengal Valley. Men have been shot while asleep in their barracks tents.
Second Platoon is one of four in Battle Company, which covers the Korengal as part of the Second Battalion of the 503rd Infantry Regiment (airborne). The only soldiers to have been deployed more times since the September 11 attacks are from the 10th Mountain Division, which handed the Korengal over last June. (Tenth Mountain had been slated to go home three months earlier, but its tour was extended while some of its units were already on their way back. They landed in the United States and almost immediately got back on their planes.) When Battle Company took over the Korengal, the entire southern half of the valley was controlled by the Taliban, and American patrols that pushed even a few hundred yards into that area got attacked.
If there was one thing Battle Company knew how to do, though, it was fight. Its previous deployment had been in Afghanistan’s Zabul Province, and things were so bad there that half the company was on psychiatric meds by the time they got home. Korengal looked like it would be even worse. In Zabul, they had been arrayed against relatively inexperienced youths who were paid by Taliban commanders in Pakistan to fight—and die. In the Korengal, on the other hand, the fighting is funded by al-Qaeda cells who oversee extremely well-trained local militias. Battle Company took its first casualty within days, a 19-year-old private named Timothy Vimoto. Vimoto, the son of the brigade’s command sergeant major, was killed by the first volley from a Taliban machine gun positioned around half a mile away. He may well not have even heard the shots.