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Driving The Khyber Pass To Kabul

After several days stuck in Peshawar, Pakistan because of heavy fighting in the Khyber Pass, we finally got the green light to move through very early in the morning. Tensions were running quite high as the tribesmen had been killing each other only hours before and were still freely roaming around the area with twitchy trigger fingers and guns in their hands…

The government has very little control in the tribal areas. As such, we had an armed guard in our mini bus with us and a convoy of soldiers behind us. However, we still had to disguise ourselves in native garb and close the curtains on all the windows in the mini bus… As such, I apologize for the lesser quality photos in the first part of this post. We were under strict security conditions and I didn’t want to get the other members of our group killed. So, these first pictures were all taken on the sly and quite rapidly which, unfortunately, usually reduces quality…

The famous gateway to the Khyber Pass… This is even on the currency:

entrance khyber pass

Lots of traffic was backed up because the Khyber Pass had been closed for so long and many people were desperate to get through having been without food or water for several days:


A warlord’s compound strategically located on a hill overlooking the road:

khyber pass warlord compound

A goat along the Khyber Pass:

khyber pass

Not exactly like a drive to your local grocery store… We received mixed accounts as to whether this bridge was blown up or had simply been washed out:


Railroad bridge… The railroad tracks looks fine here, but higher up, large sections have been washed away, just leaving rails hanging out over a void. It’s an interesting sight:

khyber pass railroad

Another warlord’s compound:

khyber pass

And yet another:

warlord khyber pass pakistan

This is only the side entrance to the massive compound of what is said to be one of the richest men in Pakistan… How did he make his immense fortune? Counterfeiting U.S. currency, of course:


Trucks grinding down to the border crossing at Torkham:

trucks torkham border crossing

One sees all sorts of transportation arrangements:

khyber pass pakistan

A Khyber Rifles guard with a Khyber Rifles outpost in the background:

Khyber Rifles guard

The armed guard that was in our vehicle:

khyber k.k.e.

A child begging near the border crossing (Yes, I gave her some money):


Another child begging:

child beggar torkham

This is another beggar and he was a little dictator – shoving the other children out of the way and hitting them so he could be first in line to beg from us:


Tribal fighters:


U.S. Troops on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border at Torkham…

By the way, I have to thank Nigel for these military pictures on the Pakistan side of the border. I had some great pictures of my own, but as we were passing through the fortified border checkpoint, I was a little too obvious about snapping a picture of the CIA field officer that was present (it was a great picture, too) and immediately was surrounded by armed Americans that made me delete all pictures I had taken of the area. Fortunately, Nigel was a little more discrete:


More U.S. Soldiers:


The Torkham border crossing:

torkham border crossing

As soon as we crossed in Afghanistan, the road was lined with these cargo containers… People live in these and have small businesses inside them – feeding off of the border traffic:

container people afghanistan

Starting out on the highway toward Kabul:

Afghanistan highway after Torkham


road to kabul

The first police checkpoint we came to. One of many, many police checkpoints we would pass through… This particular group didn’t hit us up for some baksheesh, but that is a frequent occurrence:



Not a nice place… This was the one time on the entire trip when my “I need to get the fuck out of here” instinct kicked in. This is still a Taliban stronghold and an oppressive tension filled the air for the duration of our stay.

At one point, beggars swarmed over us – ripping and tearing at our clothing and trying to pull us down to be consumed by the mob. And, interestingly enough, the women were the most physically aggressive and vicious of the beggars:


A Jalalabad street scene:


Knife dealers in Jalalabad:

jalalabad knife dealers

I thought these graphics I photographed on a rickshaw while driving out of town summed up Jalalabad pretty well:


Headed up the Kabul Gorge:


Passing a camel train:


An unintentional self-portrait taken in the Kabul Gorge… The clothing I’m wearing is part of my shalwar kameez that I was required to wear for the morning crossing through the Khyber Pass (without the camera and sunglasses, of course). The clothing is very functional and comfortable:

justin ames

We literally came to a fork in the road as the main route into Kabul was closed (due either to a bombing or road construction – we were never able to determine which story was the truth):

fork road to kabul

So, we and everyone else wishing to get to Kabul, had to take this back road into the capital:

detour kabul

The flag you see alongside the road is a martyr’s flag… When someone is killed in battle (martyred) a flag is placed in their honor where they fell. One can determine the size of a battle by the number of martyr’s flags strewn across an area and can determine the significance of the person killed by the volume of the flags:

martyrs flags afghanistan

Another view of the road we were on:

afghan man

This is what the driving was like – dodging and weaving through big trucks on blind corners:


If you think it is difficult to see, well, you’re right… Now mix in the fact that you’re driving in Afghanistan which is sporty even when you can see where you’re going:


You always have to be ready for zipping around a corner and coming across something like this old boy losing control of his donkeys:


Picture A: The road is collapsing out from under the truck… And it is difficult to tell, but the guy at the back of the truck was riding there and he is bailing out:

truck crash afghanistan

Picture B: The results:

truck accident afghanistan

Driving through the mountains:

afghanistan mountain road


We stopped briefly at this camp… These lads have an innovative automotive services business (You can tell they do work on vehicles by the fact that they have tires attached to the building. If someone has tires stacked or attached next to a building, that is a code indicating that they work with vehicles). The business consists solely of blowing the accumulated road dust out of air filters utilizing the air compressor you see pictured here:


Other travelers stopped at the camp:

truck stop afghanistan

Some of the occupants posing with their machine gun:

men with ak47 afghanistan

Making one’s way through the Khyber Pass is a great adventure.  I would strongly recommend it.


8 thoughts on “Driving The Khyber Pass To Kabul

  1. Nice, I like the Picture of you in the side mirror in the vehicle, it looks like you blended right in with that attire

  2. Ithink that its a risky puting pics of Military instalations on the net for anyone to look at. It puts our comrades at danger being a serviceman myself

  3. A number of my family members have been in the military over the years, including one that is in the Marines at this time and has been deployed to Iraq. And this aside, I wouldn’t want anyone to be hurt or killed because of something I published. So, I am concerned with any potential dangers I might be placing someone in. However, I think some common sense needs to be applied to the “no pictures of coalition troops” policy. All of my pictures of military personnel were taken from a road where anyone can drive by and see the same thing. And it isn’t as if there are not many, many pictures out there of U.S. soldiers and the gear they use. How are the pictures I took and published any different than those an embedded journalist takes and publishes? My pictures reveal no future troop movements or vulnerabilities.

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  5. Taliban suicide bomber kills 9 in Hangu; 6 police killed in ambush in Khyber
    By Bill RoggioMarch 3, 2011

    The Taliban carried out two attacks in the violent northwestern region of Pakistan today. A suicide bomber killed nine Pakistanis, including four policemen, in Hangu; and six policemen were killed in an IED attack in the tribal agency of Khyber.

    In Hangu, a suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into a police checkpoint. Four policemen manning the checkpoint and five civilians passing by were killed in the massive blast, Dawn reported.

    In Khyber, six tribal police, known as khasadars, were killed in an ambush while patrolling the Alam Gudar area of Khyber.

    Since the beginning of January, the Taliban have intensified their attacks on security forces and civilians alike in Hangu and Khyber, as well as in Peshawar, Kohat, Bannu, Mardan, and Karak [see LWJ report, Pakistani Taliban step up attacks in northwest]. The Taliban have claimed credit for suicide attacks, ambushes, and assaults on the police and military, as well as on government officials and Shia minorities in the region.

    The Taliban and the allied Lashkar-e-Islam, an affiliated group, both operate in Khyber. Both groups routinely target NATO convoys carrying fuel and supplies for Coalition troops operating in Afghanistan. The last major attack, on Feb. 25, killed four Pakistani drivers and destroyed 11 fuel trucks. Both groups conduct operations with al Qaeda and shelter al Qaeda operatives.

    Commander Tariq Afridi is the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in Khyber, as well as in regions in Peshawar, Kohat, and Hangu. Afridi was named the terror group’s commander of Khyber in November 2009. Afridi is also the leader of the Commander Tariq Afridi Group. This Taliban outfit is considered the most powerful terror group in Arakzai, and is based in Darra Adam Khel. The Tariq Afridi Group conducts attacks on Pakistani security forces in Arakzai, Kohat, and Hangu. His fighters were responsible for closing down the Kohat Tunnel twice in 2008.

    In early 2009, the Commander Tariq Afridi Group claimed the murder and beheading of Polish geologist Piotr Stanczak. In early 2010, operating under the guise of an outfit named the “Asian Tigers,” the group was responsible for the kidnapping and murder of former ISI officer and jihadist sympathizer Khalid Khawaja.

    The Lashkar-e-Islam is a Taliban-like group run by Mangal Bagh [for more information, see LWJ report, A profile of Mangal Bagh]. Based in Khyber, the Lashkar-e-Islam has established its own Taliban-like government in large areas of the tribal agency, including Bara, Jamrud, and the Tirah Valley. The group provides recruits to battle US and Afghan forces across the border, and attacks NATO’s vital supply line moving through Khyber. The Pakistani military has targeted the Lashkar-e-Islam during five operations since 2008, but has failed to dislodge the group from power.

    Read more:

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