Freelance photojournalist Victor J. Blue embedded on a five-day clearance operation with the Afghan National Army this May. The mission was to push back on insurgent dominated areas in advance of the second round of voting for the Afghan presidential election, the first democratic transition in the country’s history.
Over 500 soldiers from the 4th Brigade participated in the operation, along with nearly 300 Afghan police, in a district that lies along the border with Pakistan. The operation was planned and executed entirely by Afghan officers with minimal input and oversight by their U.S. counterparts.
After 13 years of U.S. fighting in Afghanistan, the ANA is now operating unilaterally, with advising and mentoring only at the brigade level and above. Nangarhar has seen one of the steepest increases in violent attacks since a year ago, and is a focus of U.S. efforts to solidify gains by the Afghan security forces before the scheduled end of their combat mission this year.
An hour after this picture was taken Isatullah was killed in a huge IED blast. He and his men found 33 IED's in one day, and missed one, the one that took his life.
. The door of an Afghan National Army up armored humvee lies in a wheat field nearly 300 feet from the blast of an IED that killed two soldiers during the large clearing operation on May 20.
"I had wanted to embed with the Afghan Army for a long time," Blue told NBC News. "I wanted to get out and see what life was like for the soldiers when the Americans weren’t around."
. Afghan National Army soldiers eat dinner on May 21.
. Afghan National Army soldiers sleep in an empty school on May 22.
. Afghan National Army soldiers ride through the ruins of the Pachir Wa Agam district center on May 23. The center was attacked by a suicide bomber three months before and effectively destroyed except for a small police base behind where a few officers live under siege by insurgents.
. Afghan National Army soldiers conduct a large clearing operation in Nangarhar on May 19.
. Afghan Police and Afghan National Army soldiers search the home of a villager on May 23.
. Yacob, of the Afghan National Army, rests on his weapon as he and other soldiers participate in the clearing operation in Nangarhar on May 19.
. Afghan National Army soldiers of the 4th Brigade, 201st Corps share a pod of poppy seeds during the operation in Nangarhar on May 19.
. Afghan National Army soldiers ride in pickups as they participate in the operation on May 21.
. A plastic flower adorns the rifle of an Afghan National Army soldier on May 19.
. A member of the Nangarhar Provincial Response Company, similar to a police SWAT unit, rides a children's bicycle as he participates with the Afghan National Army in a large clearing operation on May 23.
. Afghan National Army counter IED engineer Lt. Sahar Gul runs from the controlled detonation of an IED his soldiers found during the operation on May 22.
. A cloud of debris rises from the controlled detonation of an IED that Afghan National Army soldiers found during the operation on May 22.
. A young boy looks on as Afghan National Army search cars at a temporary checkpoint on May 22.
. An Afghan National Army soldier carries ammunition and his weapon during the operation in Nangarhar on May 20.
. An Afghan National Army soldier from the 4th Brigade, 201st Corps patrols in Nangarhar on May 19.