Into Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley of Death (by Sebastian Junger in Vanity Fair)

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 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…

Into Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley of Death (by Sebastian Junger in Vanity Fair)

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