Approaching a security checkpoint adjacent to the main base of, and run by, the Khost Protection Force — a CIA-funded and trained security force unique to the province. (Andrew Quilty for The Washington Post)

Children from a nearby village ride bikes and play cricket beside farmland on the outskirts of Khost City. (Andrew Quilty for The Washington Post)

We head down a rugged road toward a village not far from Pakistan’s border. Mud-walled houses, sprawling farms, boys playing cricket in a field, life’s mundane rituals are on display. In the eastern province of Khost, you see the real Afghanistan – one that in some ways seems oblivious to the war unfolding nearby. The normality in itself is a striking testament to the resilience of the Afghan people, who have been in conflict for more than three decades.

I am traveling with a photographer, Andrew Quilty, and soon we reach the village, Tor Ghar, which is nestled in the basin of the dark-hued mountains. Life is slow. Villagers sit on wooden cots inside their compounds. They have horrific stories to tell of the war crashing into their lives – this part of the country has served as a gateway for militants coming from Pakistan. And yet they graciously offer us cups of green tea with caramel chocolates.

[CIA runs shadow war with Afghan militia implicated in civilian killings]

Back in the provincial capital, I notice a group of children playing in a wheelbarrow. They laugh, giggle and tease each other. I close my eyes, hear the excitement in their voices, and suddenly they could be anywhere. Nearby, small stalls bustle with customers, including women in blue burqas. From carts, vendors sell shiny grapes and apples, the market’s cacophony melding with the honks of car horns. And for a moment, it’s possible to forget the checkpoints and the blast walls and the white U.S. military reconnaissance blimp flying over the city.


Dawar Khan, center, outside the home, where only a couple of months ago, he witnessed Khost Protection Forces kill a relative and his wife. (Andrew Quilty for The Washington Post)

A view from the roof of a restaurant in central Khost City. (Andrew Quilty for The Washington Post)

Four young boys and a motorcyclist aboard a motorcycle in Khost city. (Andrew Quilty for The Washington Post)

A street scene in the center of Khost city. (Andrew Quilty for The Washington Post)

A PK machine gun lies under a table in the office of a member of the Khost Provincial Council in Khost City. (Andrew Quilty for The Washington Post)

Men during afternoon prayer at Khost City’s main mosque. (Andrew Quilty for The Washington Post)

Young men ride a pirate ship amusement-park ride in a small park in Khost City. (Andrew Quilty for The Washington Post)

After two men were killed by Khost Protection Forces (KPF) during a raid the night before, a couple of hundred men from the same village protested the deaths in a procession (with the bodies of the two men) on the outskirts of Khost City. (Andrew Quilty for The Washington Post)

A boy studies the Koran at a small Islamic School, or madrasa, on the outskirts of Khost City. (Andrew Quilty for The Washington Post)

Children light a fire on a hill in a small village on the outskirts of Khost City. (Andrew Quilty for The Washington Post)

Read more about Khost:

CIA runs shadow war with Afghan militia implicated in civilian killings

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