Afghanistan: March 2012

After a tough February, the NATO presence in Afghanistan proved even more difficult in this past month. On March 11, United States Army Sergeant Robert Bales went on a violent house-to-house rampage in a village near his base, killing 17 civilians, including 9 children. Bales is in U.S. custody now and could face the death penalty. Coming on the heels of last month's Koran burning incident, the shootings have further intensified Afghan anger toward the United States. According to recent polls, domestic support for the war has been sharply dropping, but the Obama administration appears to be sticking to its timetable, aiming for a complete troop withdrawal in 2014. 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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A local Afghan elder watches soldiers from the Afghan Uniformed Police conduct a traffic checkpoint with U.S. Army soldiers from 1st Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Blackhawk, in a desolate valley near Combat Outpost Yosef Khel, on March 9, 2012. (US Army/Spc. Ken Scar) #
A U.S. Air Force E-3 Sentry receives fuel from a KC-10 Extender with the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron over Afghanistan, on March 3, 2012. In 2011, the 908th EARS offloaded more than 390 million pounds of fuel to more than 28,000 airplanes, flew more than 36,700 hours in almost 4,600 missions. (USAF/Staff Sgt. Greg Biondo) #
A villager works alone on agricultural plots that have been newly planted with vegetable seeds near a U.S. military base in Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan, on March 22, 2012. (Reuters/Erik De Castro) #
Afghan National Army commandos wait for a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to drop a hoist-hook during medical evacuation training with Coalition Special Operations Forces in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, on March 3, 2012. (Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force/Petty Officer 2nd Class Clayton Weis) #
Afghan National Army officers and generals exchange ideas in front of a diorama complete with toy soldiers at Camp Shaheen in Dehdady district near Mazar-i Sharif on March 26, 2012. (Qais Usyan/AFP/Getty Images) #
An Afghan refugee girl reacts after another child stole her food voucher while she was lining up in front a truck organized by the World Food Program in Kabul, on March 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus) #
Viewed through night-vision goggles, an Afghan National Army soldier from 2nd Commando Kandak runs down a hill during a clearing operation in Chamkain district, Wardak province, Afghanistan, on March 6, 2012. (US Army/Spc. Savoy Anderson) #
A U.S. army soldier of Chosen Troop 1st Squadron 13th Cavalry Regiment rests on a chair next to a doorknob made out of remains of a rocket at Combat Outpost Bad Pach in Laghman province, on March 24, 2012. (Reuters/Erik De Castro) #
U.S. Army soldiers from 1st Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 172nd Infantry Brigade, patrol through the small village of Yahya Khel, on March 10, 2012. (US Army/Spc. Ken Scar) #
French soldiers with the NATO-led ISAF stand during a departure ceremony at the French base in Surobi district in Kabul province, on March 18, 2012. Around 200 French soldiers left Afghanistan by the end of March. Some 600 soldiers are actually based in this camp, located east of capital Kabul. (Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images) #
French soldiers stand during a departure ceremony at the French base in Kabul province, on March 18, 2012. (Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images) #
On March 17, 2012, people of Mohamad-Khan Valley gather while ISAF forces were delivering humanitarian aid. (ISAF Media) #
Nunzia, the wife of Italian soldier Michele Silvestri, reacts as she arrives at Ciampino's military airport in the outskirts of Rome, Italy, for the arrival of her husband's body, on March 26, 2012. Silvestri was killed in a mortar attack at the Ice Forward Operative Base in the district of Gulistan, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito) #
U.S. Army soldiers from 1st Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 172nd Infantry Brigade, Task Force Blackhawk, cordon off the town square of a small village near Combat Outpost Yosef Khel, on March 10, 2012. Members of Company A were assisting the Afghan Uniformed Police and Afghan National Army, conducting traffic checkpoints, when one of their vehicles got stuck in the mud and had to be pulled out. (US Army/Spc. Ken Scar) #
A U.S. UH-60 Black Hawk from Task Force Wings lifts off after inserting eight soldiers of the 5th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Arctic Wolves into an area of southern Daman district, Kandahar province. The soldiers served as mentors during an air assault that was planned and executed by the Afghan 1st Brigade, 205th Atal Corps and Kandahar Air Wing, on March 1, 2012. (1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team) #
Members of the Afghan Women's Olympic basketball team (in red) compete with ISAF and US embassy representatives during a game to mark International Women's Day at ISAF headquarters in Kabul, on March 7, 2012. In Kabul and major cities in Afghanistan, enormous progress has been made in women's rights since the 2001 US-led invasion brought down the Taliban regime that banned girls from going to school and women from working. But in remote areas where the traditional patriarchal system is very much the norm, life for most women has barely improved at all. (Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images) #
A former Taliban fighter, after joining Afghan government forces during a ceremony in Herat province, on March 26, 2012. Twelve fighters had left the Taliban to join government forces in western Afghanistan. (Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images) #
A German Soldiers (right) is reflected in a mirror as he calibrates the weapons of a Boxer tank in the OP North base, near Baghlan, on March 28, 2012. Around 500 German Soldiers are stationed in the outpost in the Balkh province. (Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images) #
In an August 23, 2011 photo, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, left, participates in an exercise at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. The 38-year-old is accused of carrying out a mass-shooting rampage, killing 16 Afghans, including nine children in March 2012. The man at the right is unidentified. (AP Photo/DVIDS, Spc. Ryan Hallock) #

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Anar Gul, right, is interviewed as she sits next to the partially-burned body of her grandson, allegedly killed by a U.S. service member in Panjwai, Kandahar province south of Kabul, Afghanistan, on March 11, 2012. A U.S. service member walked out of a base in southern Afghanistan before dawn Sunday and started shooting Afghan civilians, according to villagers and Afghan and NATO officials. Villagers showed an Associated Press photographer 15 bodies, including women and children, and alleged they were killed by the American. (AP Photo/Allauddin Khan) #
In this March 11, 2012 image made from video, bullet casings litter the floor as an investigator works inside a home that was the scene of an apparent shooting rampage by a U.S. soldier in Panjwai, Kandahar province. The United States has paid $50,000 in compensation for each Afghan killed and $11,000 for each person wounded in the shooting spree allegedly committed by a U.S. soldier in southern Afghanistan. The sums, much larger than typical payments made by the U.S. to families of civilians killed in military operations in Afghanistan, come as the U.S. tries to mend relations following the killing rampage that has threatened to undermine the international effort here. (AP Photo) #
Afghan villagers pray over the grave of one of the 16 victims killed in a shooting rampage in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province, on March 24, 2012. Mohammad Wazir has trouble even drinking water now, because it reminds him of the last time he saw his 7-year-old daughter. He had asked his wife for a drink but his daughter insisted on fetching it. Now his daughter Masooma is dead, killed along with 10 other members of his family in a shooting rampage attributed to a U.S. soldier. The soldier faces the death penalty but Wazir and his neighbors say they feel irreparably broken. (AP Photo/Allauddin Khan) #
A girl carries a pile of dried shrubs she gathered to use for cooking and heating in Bagram, north Afghanistan, on March 27, 2012. Her family is among among the Afghan Nomads herding sheep and living in tents on a field in Bagram. (Reuters/Erik De Castro) #
An Afghan police helicopter flies over Hazrat Ali (Kart-i-Sakhi) shrine where Afghans celebrate the Afghan New Year (Nawroz) in Kabul, on March 20, 2012. Afghanistan uses the Persian calendar which runs from the vernal equinox. The calendar takes as its start date the time when the Prophet Mohammad moved from Mecca to Medina in 621 AD. The current Persian year is 1391. (Reuters/Omar Sobhani) #
Afghanistan's security forces block a road leading to the Sakhi Shrine in Kabul on March 20, 2012, during celebrations marking the start of Noruz, the Afghan new year. (Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images) #
An Afghan National Army soldier looks on as he joins other comrades for a training session at the Kabul Military Training Center, KMTC, on the outskirts of Kabul, on March 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus) #
The transfer case containing the remains of Army Spc. Daquane D. Rivers of Marianna, Florida, sits at the end of the loader ramp during a foggy night, upon arrival at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, on March 17, 2012. The Department of Defense announced the death of Rivers who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) #
Thirty-five U.S. Marines from the Marine Corps 4th Civil Affairs Group, 2nd Marine Division, returned to Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, District of Columbia, on March 9, from a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan. (USMC/Staff Sgt. Brittany E. Jones) #
A member of the Afghan Local Police carries his weapon as he walks with German Soldiers towards a bridge to meet a visiting military commander near Baghlan, on March 27, 2012. (Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images) #
Afghan girls work at the first Internet cafe for women in Kabul, on March 8, 2012. Afghanistan recently opened its first female-only internet cafe, hoping to give women a chance to connect to the world without verbal and sexual harassment and free from the unwanted gazes of their countrymen. (Reuters/Mohammad Ismail) #
An M777 howitzer is transported to Combat Outpost Chamkani from Forward Operating Base Salerno, slung underneath a CH-46 civilian helicopter, on March 28, 2012. (US Army/Spc. Eric-James Estrada) #
Afghan security forces escort Taliban militants clad in Afghan women dresses to be presented to the media at the Afghan intelligence department in Mehterlam, Laghman province, on March 28, 2012. Afghan Intelligence forces arrested seven Taliban militants today in the Qarghayi district of Laghman province, Afghan intelligence officials said. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul) #

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Afghan policemen cover body parts with a blanket after one civilian was killed and 11 people wounded when a man blew himself up at a police checkpoint in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, on March 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul) #
A member of the Afghan National Army cooks rice in the kitchen of the DFAC (dining facility) at Camp Shaheen near Mazar-i Sharif, on March 24, 2012. (Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images) #
A local boy smiles at U.S. Army soldiers from 2nd Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Blackhawk, as they moved through is village near Combat Outpost Yosef Khel, on March 8, 2012. (US Army/Spc. Ken Scar) #
A member of coalition Special Operations Forces gathers firewood as snow falls in Sayagaz village, Arghandab district, on March 11, 2012. (US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jacob L. Dillon) #
Afghan policemen look at the wreckage of a Turkish helicopter that crashed on the outskirts of Kabul, on March 16, 2012. The Turkish military helicopter crashed into a house Friday, killing several Turkish soldiers on board and young girls on the ground, Turkish and Afghan officials said. (AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq) #
A relative mourns as Turkish honor guards stand next to the flag-draped coffins of soldiers, who were killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, during a ceremony at a military base in Ankara March 20, 2012. (Reuters/Umit Bektas) #
An Afghan child sits next to his father's shop, in the old city of Kabul, Afghanistan, on March 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus) #
Locals gather for a veterinary seminar sponsored by the Zabul Department of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock in Shah Joy district, Zabul province, in March of 2012. The DAIL is mentored by the Zabul Agribusiness Development Team comprised of soldiers of the Minnesota and Mississippi National Guards. (US Army National Guard/1st Lt. Davin Fischer) #
Graffiti on a wall in Kabul, on March 5, 2012. Encased in a head-to-toe burqa, the image depicts a distraught woman slumped on a cement stairwell, the work of Afghanistan's first street artists who use graffiti to chronicle violence and oppression. The somber depictions of Afghan women on Kabul's rutted streets offer rare public insight into their lives, still marred by violence and injustice despite progress in women's rights since the Taliban was toppled over a decade ago. (Reuters/Mohammad Ismail) #

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