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March 2, 2011

Afghanistan, February 2011

The buildup of forces in Afghanistan is complete, with the number of US troops there the highest yet. The surge is part of President Obama’s campaign to take the battle to the Taliban strongholds in the south and east, while accelerating training of Afghan security forces. In February, suicide attacks by militants increased, and villagers and Afghan officials accused NATO of killing a large number of civilians in airstrikes. The images in this month's post show Afghans and NATO-led soldiers working and living through moments of sheer terror and numbing poverty. Through the strife, we see glimpses of the enduring human spirit. --Leanne Burden Seidel (39 photos total)

An Afghan army recruit marches during a graduation parade after an oath ceremony at Ghazi military training center in Kabul Feb. 3. Strengthening the abilities of Afghan forces to secure their country has been a top goal of US policy. (Ahmad Masood/Reuters)

For an Afghan child in Garmser, the wreckage of a truck becomes his playground on Feb. 25. (Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images) #

A US Marine fires a missile (shown in four frames) from the Mirage patrol base in Helmand province on Feb. 8. On the same day, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he was in talks with the United States about the possible establishment of permanent US military bases in his country. (Dmitry Kostyukov/AFP/Getty Images) #

Marines from First Battalion, Eighth Regiment, fire missiles at Taliban rebels during a night firefight at Mirage base, on the south of Musa Qala District, Helmand province on Feb. 4. (Dmitry Kostyukov/AFP/Getty Images) #

An Afghan youth watches Marines from Second Battalion, First Regiment patrol in the village of Kashthay in Garmser, Helmand Province, on Feb. 24. (Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images) #

A Marine waits in an M1 Abrams tank as others refuel their vehicles at FOB Edinburgh base in Helmand province on Feb. 2. (Dmitry Kostyukov/AFP/Getty Images)#

Afghan National Police servicemen join patrols by the Marines Feb. 5 outside the Mirage base, Musa Qala District in Helmand province. US-led NATO troops are under a deadline across Afghanistan to train local forces to take responsibility for their country's security by 2014. (Dmitry Kostyukov/AFP/Getty Images) #

Marines from the Second Batallion, First Regiment take up positions during a patrol Feb. 24 in the village of Kashthay in Garmser, Helmand province. About 140,000 international troops, two-thirds of them from the United States, are fighting the militant Islamist Taliban in Afghanistan. Helmand has been a crucial battleground for the Marines. (Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images) #

A US soldier enters biometric data obtained from an Afghan man during a night raid Feb. 21 in Yahya Khel, Paktika Province. General David Petraeus has increased the use of such raids since he took over running the Afghan war last year, despite strong opposition from by President Hamid Karzai. Petraeus says the pressure on suspected insurgents and their networks has brought a new dynamic to a near-decade-old war. Critics argue it is fueling violence because poor intelligence means dozens of innocent people are killed or detained. Although more than 80 percent of recent raids ended without a shot being fired, violence escalates fast when it does break out, with 600 people killed on operations in the three-month period. (Matt Robinson/Reuters) #

A young Pakistani security guard holds his gun as he checks the gate of a terminal where NATO fuel trucks are parked in Quetta, Pakistan, on Feb. 7. Fuel for NATO troops in southern Afghanistan is transported along dangerous routes by impoverished Pakistani drivers. The war, now in its 10th year, consumes 1.5 million gallons, about 100 truckloads, of fuel a day, according to NATO forces. (Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press) #

Pakistani truck drivers drink early morning tea on Feb. 8 in Spin Boldak, Afghanistan, before continuing their trip to Kandahar, Afghanistan, with fuel for NATO troops. Depending on the Taliban, the Pakistani and NATO armies, checkpoints, congestion, and the weather, the journey from Karachi, Pakistan, to Kandahar, Afghanistan, can take 4 to 15 days, says driver Nowsher Awan. (Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press) #

A chicken walks between supply trucks parked on Feb. 6 at a terminal in Quetta, Pakistan, loaded with supplies for NATO troops in Afghanistan. (Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press) #

A truck en route to Kandahar, Afghanistan, passes people at a store in Quetta, Pakistan, early in the morning of Feb. 8. (Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press) #

Pakistani firefighters attempt to extinguish burning NATO oil tankers at a terminal on the outskirts of Peshawar on Feb. 25. Militants in northwestern Pakistan blew up at least 11 tankers carrying fuel for NATO troops and shot dead four people, police said. Such attacks are commonplace in Pakistan. (A. Majeed/AFP/Getty Images) #

Pakistani police officials and firefighters battle flames that erupted from the wreckage of NATO oil tankers on Feb. 26 in Peshawar. The blast from a timed device struck a day after two dozen militants attacked the compound. (A. Majeed/AFP/Getty Images) #

Afghans carry the casket containing the body of Malam Awal Gul, an Afghan prisoner, during a burial ceremony on Feb. 7 in Jalalabad, east of Kabul. Gul had died at the US detention prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Rahmat Gul/Associated Press) #

Australian engineers carry the casket of their colleague Corporal Richard Atkinson at Multinational Base Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan province, on Feb. 5. Atkinson, 22, was killed by an improvised explosive device during a joint patrol with the Afghan National Army in the Tangi Valley. He is one of 24 Australians who have been killed in Afghanistan; the country has about 1,500 defense forces in the country. (Christopher Dickson/Australian Department of Defense via Reuters) #

Marines from the First Battalion, Eighth Marines Alpha Company return to their base at the end of a patrol near the town of Kunjak in Helmand province on Feb. 23. (Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters) #

Marine Sergeant Savanna E. Malendoski plays with an Afghan child during a visit to a house in the village of Garmser, Helmand province, on Feb. 23. As part of a program called Female Engagement Team, about 40 female Marines have been deployed in Helmand province and Nimruz to meet with Afghan civilians, particularly women and children. (Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images) #

Afghan boys turn a broken Ferris wheel into their own jungle gym at a park in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Many in this impoverished city still feel insecure even after 10 years of NATO presence in the capital of the province that was the birthplace of the Taliban. (Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press) #

Debris and blood cover the site of a suicide car bombing in Khost province on Feb. 18. The attack struck a police checkpoint, killing at least nine people and injuring dozens, health and police officials said. The majority of the dead were civilians. (Reuters) #

US armored vehicles patrol near the site of explosion in Spin Boldak district of Kandahar on Feb, 24. A suicide bomber blew himself up, killing one Afghan intelligence service officer and wounding more than two dozen other people.(Rahmat Gul/Associated Press) #

Two Afghan girls watch Marines secure an area after the patrol found mortar devices on Feb. 22 in Garmser, southern Afghanistan. (Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images) #

An Afghan mourns the deaths of civilians in a NATO raid in Khogyani district of Nangarhar province on Feb. 21. Afghan officials accused NATO forces of killing a family of six in an airstrike, a day after President Hamid Karzai said 50 innocent people had died in aerial attacks nearby. The NATO coalition says it is investigating the accidental deaths along the Pakistan border. (Associated Press) #

Comrades, friends, and family repatriate the bodies of five British soldiers in a ceremony at Wootton Bassett in southern England on Feb. 17. The cortege carries the bodies of Lance Corporal Kyle Marshall, Second Battalion Parachute Regiment, Private Lewis Hendry, Third Battalion Parachute Regiment, Private Conrad Lewis, Fourth Battalion Parachute Regiment, and Privates Dean Hutchinson and Robert Wood of the Royal Logistics Corps. At least 358 UK military personnel have been killed in Afghanistan since the start of the war in the fall of 2001. (Toby Melville/Reuters) #

Afghan youths attend daily Koran lessons inside a local mosque in Kabul, Feb. 21. (Dar Yasin/Associated Press) #

A mother comforts her wounded son after a suicide attack in Emam Saheb district of Kunduz province Feb. 21. A bomber killed at least 30 people in a government office in northern Afghanistan, officials said, with violence spiraling across the country even before an expected spring offensive. (Wahdat/REUTERS) #

Afghan villagers invite a US Marine to visit near a new Marines patrol base Mirage, Musa Qala District, Helmand province on Feb. 6. US-led NATO troops are under a deadline across Afghanistan to train local forces to take responsibility for their country's security by 2014. (Dmitry Kostyukov/AFP/Getty Images) #

A Marine wrestles with an Afghan policeman during a friendly match at their outpost at Kunjak in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province on Feb. 19. (Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters) #

Afghanis watch two rams fight along the outskirts of northern Kabul on Feb. 18. Staged fights between rams, dogs, and camels were banned under Taliban rule but have grown in popularity since the overthrow of the Islamist government. (Majid Saeedi/Getty Images) #

Afghan National Army soldiers rest between operations at Kunjak in Afghanistan's Helmand province on Feb. 19. (Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters) #

Pigeons scatter in front of the Shah-Do-Shamshira Mosque in Kabul on Feb. 16, on Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi: the birthday of Prophet Muhammad. He was born in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca on the 12th day of Rabi-ul-Awwal in 571. (Dmitry Kostyukov/AFP/Getty Images) #

James Edward Orr, 20, from the First Battalion Eighth Marines Alpha Company, lifts weights made from barbed wire at a makeshift gym at an outpost in Kunjak in Helmand province, Feb. 17. (Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters) #

Former Afghan legislators protest the outcome of the recent Afghan parliamentary elections outside the Ahmad Shah Massoud circle in Kabul on Feb. 15. Government prosecutors and police stormed into election commission offices in Kabul the day before to seize control of vote data, accusing the commission of not cooperating with a probe into fraud, officials said. The raid was ordered by a special tribunal, which Afghan President Hamid Karzai assigned to investigate alleged fraud in Afghanistan's controversial parliamentary elections in September, they said. (Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images) #

Afghan police officers and investigators secure the site of a suicide bomb attack in Kabul on Feb. 14. The attacker targeted a downtown Kabul hotel, the Safi Landmark, which was hit by a similar assault nearly a year ago. Three people were killed in the most recent attack, Afghan and Western officials said. (Ahmad Masood/Reuters) #

A boy center warms himself near a bonfire in Kabul on Feb. 13. More than nine years after the fall of the Taliban, most Afghan children still do not attend school and face the prospect of a life of poverty no different from their parents. (Dar Yasin/Associated Press) #

Soccer is one of most popular sports among Afghani youths, snow or sun. (Dar Yasin/Associated Press) #

A Marine lays on the ground during a patrol outside new Mirage base in Helmand province on Feb. 5. The base is in Musa Qala, a district at the frontline in one of the most sensitive theaters of war. The district had served as a Taliban hub. (Dmitry Kostyukov/AFP/Getty Images) #

A woman begs in Kabul, Feb. 7. Despite billions of dollars donated by foreign countries, Afghanistan remains among the poorest countries in the world. (Musadeq Sadeq/Associated Press) #