Voices from 13 years in Afghanistan unveiled at Imperial War Museum exhibition

As British combat forces finally leave Afghanistan, the Imperial War Museum (IWM) has launched a powerful exhibition commemorating the last 13 years of British presence in the country.

War Story: Afghanistan, housed in a small room at the IWM, near Waterloo, has been put together to mark the end of the near decade and a half that British troops have been stationed in the country.

The exhibition is part of the Imperial War Museum’s wider War Story project, which began in 2009 to highlight the real voices of soldiers in conflict zones.

Since the project began, over 1,800 soldiers and family members have registered to share their stories with the museum.

It is a project that goes to the heart of the Imperial War Museum’s overall aim, which has remained the same since it was established almost 100 years ago — “to collect and record stories of war”, according to Director-General Diane Lees.

War Story: Afghanistan shows portraits of soldiers at work inside Camp Bastian, contrasted with the snowy mountains of Kabul and Afghan civilians attempting to make a living, selling wares on the streets.

Afghanistan is a country that, in the firm hold of the Taliban in 2001, had little or no girls attending school — 13 years on, the number of girls being given an education in the country is close to two million.

Although all combat troops have now left, some soldiers will remain — the process of handing over control to the Afghan forces and attempting to ensure stability is a long road, and not one that is guaranteed, even after more than a decade.

Deputy Commanding General Brigadier Rob Thomson, stationed in the southwest of the country, is one of those who has lent their voice to the project. He is positive about the future of Afghanistan: “I think we can leave here confident that we’ve made a real difference in building the Afghan National Security Forces, which I hope and pray gives enough space for the politics to then be able to do its work.”

The Imperial War Museum has sent photographers to Afghanistan a number of times in recent years, and their work, alongside numerous video interviews with NGO and UK government workers on site, makes up the basis of the exhibition.

Given unprecedented access by the Ministry of Defence, this is the first time since the First World War that IWM teams have visited an active theatre of conflict.

Below is some of their work, all of which is on display at the museum.

View of a street in Nad Ali, Helmand, as seen from a military base in the town, showing the quiet bustle of local businesses during an early evening in June. ©IWM

View of the British Military Cemetery in Kabul, 2014. The cemetery marks the deaths of British military personnel in Afghanistan from conflicts ranging from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries. ©IWM

View of a street in Kabul, 2014. The capital city of Afghanistan is one of the fastest growing cities in the world, with a population of around 3.4 million.

A street hawker sells his wares in Kabul, 2014. Economic development in Afghanistan has attempted to reduce poverty in the country.

View of the outskirts of Kabul, 2014. As the snow on the slopes demonstrates, Kabul has a different climate to Helmand further south. It is also an expanding capital city, with houses creeping up the surrounding mountains.

View of the British Council building, Kabul, 2014. The British Council organises the teaching of English to Afghan teachers and members of the Afghan National Security Forces, as well as assisting in arts and cultural programmes.

View of businesses in a street in Nad Ali, Helmand, 2013. Economic development projects have tried to strengthen and expand Afghan businesses to encourage greater prosperity.

British personnel teach troops of the Afghan National Army (ANA) how to use mortars at Camp Shorabak, Helmand, 2013. Training Afghan soldiers involves everything from physical fitness to technical expertise.

A doorway of the Old Fort in Kabul, the headquarters of Turquoise Mountain, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), 2014. This traditional woodwork shows the kind of craftsmanship that Turquoise Mountain aims to teach in order to promote economic growth and Afghan culture.

War Story: Afghanistan at the Imperial War Museum (nearest tube: Lambeth North) is open to the public now, until 6th September 2015. Find out more information here.

An evening event entitled “Why Soldiers Fight?” will take place at the museum on Wednesday 19th November 2014, between 7pm and 9.30pm. The evening will see Nick Childs, World Affairs Correspondent for BBC News, chair a discussion between IWM Curator Laura Clouting, Professor Anthony King and serving soldier Lieutenant Colonel Alex Turner, which will seek to explore this most divisive of questions.

Originally published at https://www.thenationalstudent.com.



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