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Category Archives: Afghanistan

Today my book “Dynamite and Prayers:Emerald Miners of Afghanistan” officially goes ON SALE in the United States in advance of an exhibit of my photographs during the PhotoNOLA festival in New Orleans, Louisiana at the Second Story Gallery at 2372 St. Claude Avenue from December 10th to the 13th, 2015.

Daily we see images of the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants fleeing war or seeking new lives flooding into Europe. According to the UNHCR more than half of the world’s refugees are from Syria, Afghanistan or Somalia. The Obama administration is making plans to raise the number of refugees accepted in the United States to as high as 100,000 in the coming years, an increase from 70,000 refugees allowed in this year. In Europe, kindness has prevailed for those who have taken these refugees into their homes and fear has spread where people have had no opportunity to have contact and know these brave, desperate souls.

During my decade of covering people affected by war for The New York Times and The Washington Post across the Middle East and Central Asia I have documented how war has upended communities and stolen the promise of a better future from the youth. In my new book “Dynamite and Prayers” I bring viewers in the desperate world of a group of young men facing an uncertain future in a war torn country. Through 40 captivating images the 60-page coffee table book tells the story of young men as they labor in the emerald mines of Afghanistan. These men toil, not for riches, but to earn enough money to buy their passage out of Afghanistan and to Europe. The book brings the viewer into the breathtaking mountain homes of the miners and ends with the visually stunning ancient horse game of Buzkashi played by their fathers.

With a foreword written by Carlotta Gall, a long time New York Times correspondent covering Afghanistan and Pakistan, the book gives context of the historic events that lead the miners to this moment. With rich insight and images that show the captivating beauty of these young Afghan men’s daily life, viewers will have the chance to inform themselves about just where this migration of humanity has come from and earn understanding of what it is they seek.

Proceeds from the book purchased directly from me through Etsy helps me continue my work of highlighting humanity in an ever increasingly chaotic world.

Thank you for your Support,

Max Becherer

Something about the flags and brass bands was familiar. The grass under the boots of Gen. David H. Petraeus had me thinking about the backyard, poolside, barbeque my sister would be throwing on this day. That’s when Dusan Vranic, the veteran AP photographer, bumped into me with his dangling cameras and frayed photo vest. “Haven’t we seen this before?” he said. Then I remembered. In September of 2008 he and I had arrived at the old Saddam Hussein Palace in Baghdad for the change of command ceremony from Gen. Petraeus to Gen. Raymond T. Odierno. The world’s largest chandelier hung from the ceiling and soldiers crowded every corner of the massive hall to get a look at two generals who had pulled off the unlikely feat of pulling Iraq away from an all-out civil war and bringing it to a slow simmer of unrest, slow enough to make speeches that said everything but “victory.”

Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates addressed the crowd that day.

“When General Petraeus took charge 19 months ago, darkness had descended on this land. Merchants of chaos were gaining strength. Death was commonplace. Around the world, questions mounted whether a new strategy – or any strategy, for that matter – could make a real difference.

As we all remember too vividly, those early months of the surge were tough. Casualties were high. Troops moved out of fortified bases and into the communities they were charged to secure – 24 hours a day in the thick of an unrelenting fight. You all had to adapt – and adapt you did. The principles of counterinsurgency were embraced at every level. Our guns and steel were matched by flexibility, creativity, and hard-won knowledge of a culture where shame and honor often mean a great deal more than hearts and minds. To these classic methods were added groundbreaking approaches never before seen or conceived in the history of warfare.

Slowly, but inexorably, the tide began to turn. Our enemies took a fearsome beating they will not soon forget. Reinforced and fortified by our own people, the soldiers of Iraq found new courage and confidence. And the people of Iraq, resilient and emboldened, rose up to take back their country.”

Under a July 4th sun, and in the shade of pine trees, Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, was not in attendance. It was Gen. Petraeus who gave the keynote address to the gathering of Afghan and international civilian and military dignitaries.

General David H. Petraeus said:

“As each of you knows well, we are engaged in a tough fight.  After years of war, we have arrived at a critical moment.  We must demonstrate to the Afghan people, and to the world, that Al Qaeda and its network of extremist allies will not be allowed to once again establish sanctuaries in Afghanistan from which they can launch attacks on the Afghan people and on freedom-loving nations around the world.  And with the surge in ISAF forces and the growth of our Afghan partners, we have a new opportunity to do just that.

We are engaged in a contest of wills.  Our enemies are doing all that they can to undermine the confidence of the Afghan people.  In so doing, they are killing and maiming innocent Afghan civilians on a daily basis.  No tactic is beneath the insurgents; indeed, they use unwitting children to carry out attacks, they repeatedly kill innocent civilians, and they frequently seek to create situations that will result in injury to Afghan citizens.

In answer, we must demonstrate to the people and to the Taliban that Afghan and ISAF forces are here to safeguard the Afghan people, and that we are in this to win.  That is our clear objective.”

Even the speeches of the day sounded the same. The only difference today is the one that really matters. This is not Iraq.

If the difference in Iraq was that, as Secretary Gates says, “… the people of Iraq, resilient and emboldened, rose up to take back their country,” in the course of five years, then it is a hard question to answer as to why the Afghan people have not grown tired of the war in nine years and rise up to take back their country. An even harder question to face is if they do rise up to take back their country, who will they chose to wrestle it from?

Visit my “Critical Moment: Afghanistan 2010” Photo essay: