Afghanistan: January 2012

Earlier this week, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta indicated that American forces in Afghanistan would be accelerating their withdrawal. "Hopefully by the mid-to-latter part of 2013," Panetta said, "we'll be able to make a transition from a combat role to a training, advice, and assist role." This announcement came shortly after the Taliban declared its plans to open a political office in Qatar, allowing for direct peace negotiations. At the moment, the U.S. still has 90,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan, with 22,000 scheduled to return home later this year. Gathered here are images of the people and places involved in this conflict over the past month, as part of an ongoing monthly series on Afghanistan. [41 photos total]

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Men of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, during an operation near the end of their third deployment in three years in Afghanistan. They were securing route 611, which runs Kajaki Sofla, an area that had long been a safe haven for insurgent sub-commanders and for arms and drug trafficking. (Cpl. James Clark/USMC) #
The reflection of an Afghan widow in a bowl of water as she makes bread at her bakery in the old section of Kabul on a cold winter day, on January 17, 2012. With a population of some 29 million, 23 percent of the total Afghan population live in urban areas. Afghanistan is the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world. (Qais Usyan/AFP/Getty Images) #
An Afghan boy enjoys the snowfall in Kandahar on January 24, 2012. Heavy snowfall led to dozens being injured or trapped in their homes under up to three meters of snow in remote Badakhshan province, where main roads have been cut, making it difficult for rescue workers to reach affected villages. (Jangir/AFP/Getty Images) #
Two US gunners sit aboard a US helicopter Chinook at the Bagram Airport, on January 21, 2012. (Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images) #
A V-22B Osprey transport aircraft assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 162 soars into the air after conducting an extract mission in support of 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, during Operation Tageer Shamal (Shifting Winds), on January 8, 2012. (Cpl. Reece Lodder/USMC) #
A vehicle drives over a narrow wooden bridge in the Afghan province of Daykundi on January 3, 2012. Daykundi, is one of the thirty-four provinces of Afghanistan. Daykundi's capital is Nili, located about 310 kilometers from Kabul. (Aref Yaqubi/AFP/Getty Images) #
Newly graduated Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers stand in line during their graduation ceremony at the Afghan National Army training center in Kabul, on January 26, 2012. (Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images) #
An Afghan woman practices inside a boxing club in Kabul, on December 28, 2011. Female boxing is still relatively unusual in most countries, but especially in Afghanistan, where many girls and women still face a struggle to secure an education or work, and activists say violence and abuse at home is common. Many in this conservative society still consider fighting taboo for women, and the country's first team of female boxers deal with serious threats. (Rueters/Ahmad Masood) #
A picture taken on January 21, 2012, shows the Hindu Kush mountains, an 800 km wide mountain range that stretches between central Afghanistan and northern Pakistan. (Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images) #
Pallets of supplies land in the snow-covered ground during an air drop in Shah Joy district, Zabul province, on January 25, 2012. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jon Rasmussen/US Navy) #
Mohammad Saber Yaqoti Hussaini Khedri, the calligrapher of the world's biggest copy of the holy Quran turns a page at a ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan, on January 12, 2012. Hussaini Khedri claims to have completed the writing of the world's biggest copy of Islam's holy Quran in 5 years along with his nine students with the financial support of Sayed Mansoor Nadri, a well-known figure in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq) #
A man rides a horse at a playground on a hill as sun sets in Kabul, on January 5, 2012. (Reuters/Ahmad Masood) #
Spc. Ronald H. Wildrick, Jr.'s brother Joe Osbourn (left), sister Christie Berkey (center) and mother Sandra McDonald listen as Taps is played during a burial service at Arlington National Cemetery, on January 13, 2012. US Army Spc. Ronald H. Wildrick, Jr. was killed by an improvised explosive device in December while serving in the Kunar province of Afghanistan. (Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images) #
An Afghan man clears the snow around a camp of displaced people from Helmand, in Kabul, on January 22, 2012. (Qais Usyan/AFP/Getty Images) #
U.S. airmen and soldiers assigned to the 76th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron (ERS) provide critical care to a patient onboard an HC-130 Hercules aircraft during a medical evacuation at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, on January 28, 2012. (Reuters/USAF/Senior Airman Tyler Price) #
Payten Adams, 2, plays with her father Sgt. Wesley Adams Sunday at the National Guard Armory in Oroville, California, on January 29, 2012. About 170 soldiers in the California Army National Guard's 2668th Transportation Company are leaving for a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Appeal-Democrat, Chris Kaufman) #
Captured Taliban fighters are presented to the media in Herat, on January 15, 2012. Herat security forces captured seven local insurgents, officials said in a statement. (Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images) #
Fifteen year-old Sahar Gul, holds her hands on her head, displaying a finger where he nail was ripped out, as she rests on a bed at a hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, on January 7, 2012. A week after 15 year old Sahar Gul was rescued from the house of her husband's parents, where she was tortured for months, she was demanding justice and wants to see her husband and in-laws behind bars. Gul's in-laws kept her in a basement for six months, ripped out her fingernails, tortured her with hot irons and broke her fingers. "I want my husband, sister-in-law and father-in-law to be in jail... They gave me electric shocks....They beat me with cables and tortured me," she said, speaking at the Wazir Akbar Khan hospital in Kabul, where she was being treated for her horrific injuries. (AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq) #
Cpl. Rory Hamill, who was injured in Afghanistan, spins around during an improvised wheelchair soccer game at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Bethesda, Maryland, on January 10, 2012. (Lance Cpl. Daniel A Wetzel/USMC) #
France's President Nicolas Sarkozy pays homage to the four slain soldiers killed last week in Afghanistan at the 93rd regiment of Artillery in Varces, French Alps, January 25, 2012. France said on Tuesday it would wait until Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Paris on Friday before deciding whether to speed up the withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan after French soldiers were killed by a rogue Afghan soldier. (Reuters/Philippe Wojazer) #
Newly-graduated Afghan border police officers take an oath during a graduation ceremony at the border police headquarter in Jalalabad, Nangarhar province east of Kabul, Afghanistan, on January 31, 2012. Fewer than 25 percent of Afghans say the national police are now strong enough to handle security without international forces' help, but three-quarters believe they will be ready by the 2014 NATO handover, according to a U.N. survey. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul) #
An Afghan child sifts the usable residue from the ashes of coal used at a brick factory during the cold days of a harsh winter in Surkhroad, Nangarhar province east of Kabul, on January 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul) #
Marines with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, sleep in the open during Operation Double Check, an operation to clear several villages along the southern Musa Qal'eh riverbed to establish a security presence there. The Marines patrolled day and night, from 12-14 kilometers a day, and provided their own security during the periods they could sleep. (Sgt. Earnest J. Barnes/USMC) #
Afghan men walk through the Bird market in Kabul, on January 24, 2012. Despite massive injections of foreign aid since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan remains desperately poor with some of the lowest living standards in the world. (Qais Usyan/AFP/Getty Images) #
An Afghan man makes a snowman outfitted with body armor and a weapon after a snowstorm in Kabul, on January 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq) #
Relatives carry the coffin of Bulgarian-born member of the French Foreign Legion staff sergeant Svilen Simeonov to the cemetery of the village of Rakovski, some 355 km from capital Sofia, on January 28, 2012. French Foreign Legion staff sergeant Svilen Simeonov, 34, who was one of four French army trainers killed in Afghanistan on January 20, was buried in his native village of Rakovski, in northeastern Bulgaria. He was laid to rest in a Muslim rite funeral as his family belongs to Bulgaria's Turkish minority. (Nikolay Doychinov/AFP/Getty Images) #
Abdul Ghafar, 38, an Afghan fruit seller, waits for customers on a snowy night in Kabul, on January 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Ahmad Jamshid) #
An Afghan policeman stands guard at the scene of a suicide attack in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province, on January 26, 2012. A suicide car bomber attacked a NATO armored vehicle in the southern Afghan city of Lashkar Gah on January 26, killing at least four civilians and wounding 31 others including a foreign woman, an official said. The bomber hit a provincial reconstruction team (PRT) convoy near the education department. (Noor Mohammad/AFP/Getty Images) #
An Afghan man takes a break from his work at the site of a school building under construction, on November 19. Twelve permanent schools are currently under construction by local contractors in Garmsir district. U.S. Marines with the civil affairs team in support of 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, visited several sites to inspect the structures and ensure compliance with the quality assurance standards of the Afghan government. (Cpl. Reece Lodder/USMC) #
Afghan girls play guitars at Afghanistan's National Institute for Music in Kabul on January 29, 2012. The Taliban regime, which ruled from 1996 to 2001, banned music, forcing many musicians to put away their instruments or go into exile. (Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images) #
Family members weep over the casket as the body of Marine Cpl. Christopher G. Singer returns to Southern California in what is called a Hero Mission ceremony at the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, California, on January 31, 2012. Singer, 23, of Temecula, California, died in combat in Helmand province, Afghanistan, on January 21. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon) #
A U.S. soldier keeps watch at the site of an explosion in Kandahar, on January 19, 2012. A suicide bomber killed seven civilians, including two children, and wounded eight in an attack on the main gate of the Kandahar Air Field used by international and Afghan troops in southern Afghanistan, Kandahar governor's spokesman Zalmai Ayobi said. (Reuters/Ahmad Nadeem) #
Afghan horsemen compete for the goat carcass during a game of Buzkashi in Herat, on January 6, 2012. The ancient game of Buzkashi is an Afghan national sport which is played between two teams of horsemen competing to throw a goat carcass into a scoring circle. (Qais Usyan/AFP/Getty Images) #
Internally displaced Afghan children pose at a camp in Dihdadi district in the outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharif, on January 8, 2012. (Qais Usyan/AFP/Getty Images) #
Smoke rises in the sky from a suicide car bomb explosion in Helmand province, on January 26, 2012. Four Afghan civilians were killed and 31 people wounded, among them three foreigners, during the Thursday car bomb attack on an aid office in Lashkar Gah city, in the southern Helmand province, said Dawood Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial governor. (Reuters/Abdul Malik) #
A foreign model reacts while presenting an Afghan dress created by Razia's Ray Of Hope Foundation during a fashion show at "Le Jardin de Taimani" in Kabul, on January 27, 2012. (Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images) #
U.S. Marine Lance Cpls. Matthew Scofield (left), 19, from Syracuse, New York, and Jarrett Hatley, 21, from Millingport, North Carolina, a squad automatic weapon gunner and an improvised explosive device detection dog handler with 3rd Platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, rest next to Hatley's dog Blue after clearing compounds with Afghan National Army soldiers on January 4, 2012. (Cpl. Reece Lodder/USMC) #
Afghan boys play football at sunset in Mazar-i-Sharif, on January 10, 2012. (Qais Usyan/AFP/Getty Images) #
A mortar round detonates near the top of a mountain, outside Combat Outpost Badel, Kunar province, on January 18, 2012. U.S. soldiers serving with C Company, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, Task Force Bronco, were conducting a controlled fire exercise to calibrate their mortars. (Spc. Amber Leach/US Army) #
Afghan children play on a frozen lake in Kabul, on January 18, 2012. The heavy snowfalls that have blanketed large parts of Afghanistan, killing at least 20 people, could end a long-running drought that last summer threatened millions of people with severe food shortages, government and aid officials said. (Reuters/Omar Sobhani) #
The casket containing the body of Marine Master Sergeant Travis W. Riddick sits on stage during memorial services for Riddick at Simon Estes Auditorium in Centerville, Iowa, on Sunday, January 29, 2012. Riddick was killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. (Kyle Ocker/AP Photo/Centerville Daily Iowegian) #

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