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On April 16, Afghan policemen stand outside a building in Kabul where insurgents -- likely members of the Haqqani network -- launched an attack the day before. The attack was part of a series of coordinated assaults targeting the Afghan capital and central cities in the three eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Paktia, and Logar. A Taliban spokesman described the attacks, which occurred near the peak of the U.S. troop surge in the country, as the opening of its spring offensive.
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images An Afghan villager sheds tears as the bodies of Afghan civilians allegedly shot by U.S. Staff Sgt. Robert Bales are loaded into a truck in Kandahar province on March 11. Bales is accused of taking two separate trips that morning from his base to the villages of Alkozai and Najeeban, where he is said to have gone house to house shooting or stabbing unarmed civilians. In December, the U.S. Army stated that it would seek the death penalty against Bales. The last military death sentence was carried out in 1961.
JANGIR/AFP/Getty Images U.S. Army soldiers protect a wounded comrade, Private Ryan Thomas from Oklahoma, from the flares of an improvised explosive device (IED) blast near Baraki Barak base in Logar province on Oct. 13.
MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/GettyImages Afghan men practice walking with prosthetic limbs at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) orthopedic center on Nov. 20 in Kabul. The workers at this center are all handicapped themselves, and the clinic has registered over 57,000 patients in its Kabul office and 114,000 countrywide since its inception 25 years ago.
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images A half-eaten birthday cake is left at the Spozhmai Hotel on the outskirts of Kabul on June 22. On the night of June 21, Taliban militants entered the popular lakeside hotel, seizing dozens of hostages and killing more than 20 people.
Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers attend their graduation ceremony at the ANA training center in Kabul on Jan. 26. While the ANA has reached its projected goal of almost 200,000 soldiers, doubts about its ability to maintain cohesion linger. The Afghan defense ministry admits a desertion rate of seven to 10 percent per year.
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At a protest at Bagram Airfield on Feb. 21, Afghan demonstrators open copies of a Koran set on fire by U.S. soldiers. On Feb. 20, soldiers sent books containing “sensitive material,” including copies of the Koran, from the library of the Parwan detention center to a burn pit at the airbase. The burning set off days of furious anti-American protests, and added to the fury caused by a video showing four U.S. Marines urinating on three dead Taliban fighters in January.
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Afghan demonstrators shout anti-U.S. slogans during a protest against Koran desecration in Kabul on Feb. 23. Both Gen. John R. Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, and President Barack Obama apologized for the incident, but the protests continued for five days and resulted in 30 deaths, including four U.S. soldiers.SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
An Afghan miner walks with his coal-laden donkey in a mine in Samangan province on Aug. 7. Afghanistan’s deposits of iron, oil, gold, copper, lithium, and other mineral resources are estimated to be worth as much as $3 trillion.
QAIS USYAN/AFP/GettyImages U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai exchange documents during a meeting in Kabul on May 2. Obama arrived in Afghanistan on May 1 to sign a strategic partnership agreement outlining U.S.-Afghan relations after the planned U.S. withdrawal. The agreement commits the two states to a continuing relationship after 2014, and permits a sustained foreign troop presence for the training of Afghan forces and targeted operations against al Qaeda.
Afghan Presidential Palace via Getty Images Afghan men collects opium sap in the Mamoond Spin Ghar region of Nangarhar province on May 6. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has reported that opium poppy cultivation rose 18 percent from 2011 to 2012.
Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/GettyImages Heads of state and foreign leaders attend a NATO summit in Chicago, Ill. on May 21. At the two-day gathering, Obama and the leaders of allied NATO countries agreed on a schedule to end combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages Fuel tankers sit idle in a compound in Karachi, Pakistan on July 10. Pakistan closed supply lines to Afghanistan after a U.S. airstrike in November 2011 killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan agreed to reopen supply routes on July 2 after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apologized for the deaths of the soldiers.
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images Former Taliban fighters hold Korans during a reconciliation ceremony in Hert on Oct. 22. Karzai has repeatedly appealed to Taliban militants to join the political process.
ARIF KARIMI/AFP/Getty Images On Aug. 19, U.S. Navy soldiers carry the remains of U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Sean P. Carson during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Carson, an explosives disposal technician from Renton, Wash., died on Aug. 16 in a helicopter crash northeast of Kandahar. The number of U.S. service members killed in the 11-year Afghan war and related operations surpassed 2,000 in 2012.
Patrick Smith/Getty Images Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers participate in a ceremony handing over the Bagram prison to Afghan authorities at the Bagram Airfield on Sept. 10. The United States had operated the controversial prison, which was also the site of the Koran burnings in February, since 2002. Hamid Karzai welcomed the handover as a victory for Afghan sovereignty. SHAH MARAI/AFP/GettyImages Farmers selling produce mingle with customers at an open air market in Herat on Sept. 25. Aref Karimi/AFP/GettyImages Demonstrators hold up an effigy of Barack Obama in Nangarhar province on Sept. 14. The protest, set off by an amateur film made in the United States that mocked the Prophet Mohammed, was part of a wave of demonstrations across the Muslim world in response to the inflammatory film. Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/GettyImages Mothers hold newborns as they wait for infant vaccinations at a hospital in Baharak on Oct. 6. Maternal health has been improving in Afghanistan, with one out of 32 women dying due to pregnancy and childbirth in 2010 -- a drop from one in 12 women in 2000. ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images Afghan women learn to read and write using mobile phones on Nov. 3 in Kabul through a program called Ustad Mobile (Mobile Teacher) developed by Paiwastoon, an Afghan IT company. While around a third of primary school children in Afghanistan are girls, female literacy rates are some of the world’s lowest at 12 percent, compared with 39 percent for men. Activists also fear that an ascendant Taliban will reverse advances in women's rights after the withdrawal of NATO troops in 2014.
Jawad Jalali/AFP/Getty Images Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar shakes hands with Salahuddin Rabbani, the head of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, in Islamabad, Pakistan on Nov. 12. A high-level delegation from the peace council arrived in Pakistan on Nov. 12 for a three-day visit, with a focus on political reconciliation with Taliban-led insurgents. Pakistan is seen as a critical ally in efforts to promote peace in Afghanistan.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images Afghan policewomen attend their graduation ceremony in Herat on Dec. 20. Four days later, an Afghan policewoman walked into a high-security compound in Kabul and killed a U.S. civilian contractor for NATO. More than 60 soldiers and civilian advisors have been killed this year in these so-called "green-on-blue" or "insider" attacks, an increase from 35 in 2011.
Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty ImagesAn Afghan refugee family sits at the registration center for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Peshawar, Pakistan on Nov. 8, awaiting return to their home country. There are around 1.7 million Afghan refugees registered in Pakistan, most of whom are unwilling to return home due to anxieties about economic livelihoods and personal safety.
A. MAJEED/AFP/Getty ImagesMourners gather around the coffin of Arsala Rahmani, a key member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, who was assassinated by unidentified gunmen on May 13. Rahmani, a former Taliban minister, was considered an important mediator between militants and the government. The violent blow to the peace council followed the assassination of its leader and former president Burhanuddin Rabbani in September 2011.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/GettyImages Children play by a lake on the outskirts of Herat on Dec 13.
Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images A French soldier stands on a rooftop of an Afghan National Police (ANP) combat post in a village on the road to Naghlu on Sept. 24. France ended its combat operations in Afghanistan on Nov. 20.