L.A. Times photographers chronicle the effects of the war on terror

Soldiers turn their heads away from a landing helicopter kicking up dust and debris
Members of the 82nd Airborne Division duck away from debris being thrown into the air as a Black Hawk helicopter prepares to extract soldiers on a mission in southeastern Afghanistan.
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
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Never forget. That is the solemn refrain repeated often after the devastation of 9/11.

In some ways, Times staff photojournalists cannot forget. The images they made on U.S. soil and abroad following that day captured the beginning of the long progression of war. These pictures have left their mark not only on the archives of The Times but also on the memories of many readers.

Twenty years ago, 19 terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners and used them to take down New York’s World Trade Center towers and crash into the Pentagon. The attack claimed the lives of 2,977 people, and the wars that followed in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and beyond killed nearly 1 million people, according to a Brown University report.

On Sept. 12, 2001, the United States staggered to its feet amid the devastation of the Al Qaeda attacks. These photographers traveled to tell the stories of what eventually became two decades of war. On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the attacks, we look back at some of the indelible images that resulted from the then-budding war.

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A line of women in full burqas
Afghan women wait in line for food aid distribution from CARE International in Kabul, Afghanistan. Many of the women lost their husbands during Afghanistan’s 23 years of war.
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
Rows of men lying face down in the dirt with their hands tied behind their backs
U.S. Marines detain a group of Iraqis after a night raid on a former police station Aug. 21, 2004, in Iraq. Many men said they had been held hostage by Iraqi militiamen because they wouldn’t cooperate with them.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
New recruits for Afghanistan's special forces learn about laws and regulations in December 2017.
New recruits for Afghanistan’s special forces learn about laws and regulations in December 2017. The U.S. backed a plan to nearly double the size of the elite units in the country in an effort to take back territory from the militants.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A woman in a hijab raises her hands and cries
Hasiba Debagh grieves for her 8-year-old grandson who was killed while standing near U.S. troops on July 16, 2003, in the Yarmouk district of Baghdad. The boy was killed by a hand grenade thrown from a passing car. One U.S. soldier and seven Iraqi civilians also were injured.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
A group of people throw cash into the air
Friends and relatives of inmates at Abu Ghraib prison, about 20 miles outside Baghdad, toss handfuls of Iraqi dinar into the air Oct. 20, 2002. President Saddam Hussein had granted amnesty to hundreds of thousands of prisoners, causing chaos as relatives and friends stormed the grounds.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
A statue of Saddam Hussein with his arm raised in front of a burning building
The Iraqi National Olympic Committee building, behind a statue of Saddam Hussein, is set ablaze by Iraqis on April 9, 2003, the day U.S. forces arrived in Baghdad.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
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“Less than a month after the terrorist attacks on America on Sept. 11, 2001, I was in Afghanistan to witness the U.S. bombing campaign that helped the Northern Alliance take control of Kabul from the Taliban,” staff photojournalist Carolyn Cole said. “I returned many times to witness the changes as we poured money and military might into the country. I saw women training to be pilots and girls studying to be doctors.

“But I also saw the human toll caused by years of war. I felt it was my duty to document the impact US forces were having on the country and its people, just as I did in Baghdad before and during the bombing of Iraq, and later as the country descended into civil war.

“I spent over a decade covering the Middle East, where I was always shown generosity and hospitality. Despite anger toward the U.S. government, those I met didn’t hold my nationality against me, and most wanted their stories told.

“After witnessing so much tragedy in Afghanistan, Iraq and many other countries, I have turned my attention towards the environment. It, too, is in a state of crisis, which affects all of us, regardless of where we live, our religion or our language.”

A young woman in a headscarf and gray uniform stands with four other women seated around her
Shamina Ahmadi, center, pictured on Oct. 16, 2009, overcame her father’s objections to attending a midwife school by amassing a coalition of schoolteachers, the headmaster and others to appeal directly to her village’s all-male council of elders. Her father, a town cleric, opposed her going to the city of Bamian to study.
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
A soldier lies on the ground yelling as other soldiers tend to him
Gabriel Watt, center, writhes in pain after being struck in the ankle by a rock blown into the sky when members of the 82nd Airborne detonated a cache of Russian-era rockets that were found inside a cave in the remote mountains southeast of Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. One other soldier was struck by falling debris in the incident.
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
Hamed Hamid Hussein clutches his brother's casket as he screams out "Is this what he deserves?"
Hamed Hamid Hussein, center, clutches his brother’s casket as he screams out “Is this what he deserves?” during a funeral procession for the fallen soldier.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)
A stream of blood is seen pouring down an exterior wall of a classroom at Kabul University.
A stream of blood drips the down exterior wall of a classroom after a deadly attack on Kabul University on Nov. 3, 2020. Three gunmen fired weapons and detonated explosives at the university, the country’s largest. At least 20 were killed in the massacre, and dozens more were wounded, according to government officials.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Afghan refugees at cook at Jalozai refugee camp near Peshawar, Pakistan on Sept. 29, 2001.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)
A line of couples in wedding attire
About 150 couples gather at the Iraqi Youth Federation building in Baghdad, waiting to take buses to celebrate their marriages on Oct. 21, 2002. Most are too poor to pay for their weddings, so the state buys their suits and dresses, gives them a party and pays for two days in a hotel.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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“I peered my head up over the edge of the roof with the other Marines and saw this RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) heading straight towards us,” staff photojournalist Luis Sinco said. “And I have confirmed this with other people since that it was like by some miracle, it veered away at the last second.

“After that RPG veered off, I just sat against the wall. Blake Miller, the Marlboro Marine, came from nowhere and he sat on a wall opposite from me. And I was just looking at him, and he started lighting a cigarette, so I basically just instinctively took a photo.”

A closeup of a Marine smoking a cigarette, his face covered in dirt
Marine Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller of Charlie Company of the 1st Marine Division, 8th Regiment, takes a cigarette break in the heat of battle in Fallujah, Iraq.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Firefighters battle a fire at the Ministry of Transportation storage department that was caused by looters in Baghdad, Iraq.
Firefighters battle a fire at the Ministry of Transportation storage department that was caused by looters in Baghdad, Iraq. The debris comprised of telephone and electrical cable wires.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles TImes)
A group of women and girls in head coverings
Thousands of Shiite Muslims mourn the death of slain Ayatollah Mohammed Bakir al Hakim at the Holy Shrine of Imam Mousa al Kadum on Aug. 31, 2003, in Baghdad.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“I was pulled into an office and they told me that I was going to go to Iraq to cover Saddam Hussein’s election,” staff photojournalist Robert Gauthier said. “I guess Saddam sent out invitations to news organizations to come and cover his reelection campaign.

“I was just hoping to maybe somehow draw a connection between our lives here and the things that were happening there, maybe humanize the people that were directly affected by it. To try to strip away the politics and get into a more human side of it.

“I don’t know if really any of my images had any sort of deep, long effect on anybody, but I just think as part of the historical record. We were just trying to be honest and trying to tell the truth as best we could.”

An X-ray shows the shattered leg of 10-year-old Sath Mohammad  on Nov. 6, 2001, in Quetta, Pakistan.
An X-ray shows 10-year-old Sath Mohammad’s shattered leg on Nov. 6, 2001, at the Sandeman Civic Hospital in Quetta, Pakistan. A missile from a U.S. plane exploded on the path while he and his little sister were walking neared their home in Kandahar, Afghanistan. His right leg was amputated.
(Don Bartletti/Los Angeles Times)
Children walk back to their family homes that were destroyed in the fighting between government forces and the Taliban.
Children walk back to their families’ homes that were heavily damaged in fighting between government forces and the Taliban in the Arghandab district of Afghanistan on May 4, 2021.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
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A line of armed officers silhouetted in the dawn
Afghan national police officers muster before a joint operation with U.S. military police on May 22, 2010, in District 8 of Kandahar, Afghanistan, where the Taliban exerted considerable authority.
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
Two boys faces seen through bullet holes in shattered glass
Two boys peek through bullet holes in the guard station window at the former Russian Embassy on Nov. 19, 2001, in Kabul, Afghanistan.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
On the third night of the U.S. war on Iraq, bombing took place near Saddam's Presidential Compound in central Baghdad, Iraq.
On the third night of the U.S. war on Iraq, heavy bombing took place in the area of Saddam’s Presidential Compound in central Baghdad, Iraq. Dozens of explosions rocked the area, as smoke and fire filled the night sky on March 3, 2003.
(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)
A worker from the Medical City Hospital sweeps the floor next to a burn victim.
A worker from the Medical City Hospital sweeps the floor next to a burn victim who was injured when a gasoline station exploded in Baghdad.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

“Although we were a little late [to New York] with a perimeter being set up around the collapsed towers, I managed to work my way around,” staff photojournalist Wally Skalij said. “Three months later, I was assigned to cover the civilian side of the Afghanistan war and in 2003 the Iraq war. One thing I learned from these experiences is that grief and death is universal.”

Marines point guns upward in a house
Marines clear a house in the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, Iraq.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Women and children hold their heads and wail
An Iraqi family grieves at the homecoming of three relatives killed by U.S. Marines on April 9, 2003, in Baghdad. The men did not stop their car upon a command in English from the Marines.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

“I flew back to L.A. for the holidays or just to get a breather, and then they wanted to send me back to New York after that to cover the holidays after 9/11,” former staff photojournalist Rick Loomis said. “On my way to New York, I stopped in Alabama to see my dad.

“And I got a phone call from the office and they said: ‘Hey, Rick, do you think instead of going to New York, you can just keep going and go to Afghanistan?’ And that was a shocker. I said yes, much to the chagrin of my dad.

“We were invading a country that that was being held at that time responsible for first sending people to create 9/11. And the story is really about the troops that I was with and … what they were facing. I went back to Afghanistan many, many times over the years. And, you know, it became more of an Afghan story…. For me personally, I just got I got swept up in the story … I was literally thrust into it.”

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Dirt is shoveled onto the grave of Iraqi Republican Guard soldier Saadi Hamid Hussein, 32.
Dirt is shoveled onto the grave of Iraqi Republican Guard soldier Saadi Hamid Hussein, 32, in the village of Jameela near Tikrit, Iraq.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)
A Marine walks through a field
Marine 1st Lt. Shaun Miller makes his way through a field of poppies while on patrol in June 2008 in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. The Marines had spent much of May fighting in a Taliban stronghold with one of the world’s major opium production areas.
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
A man hugs his mother as other people around them clap
A man is reunited with his mother as he leaves Abu Ghraib prison, about 20 miles outside Baghdad, on Oct. 20, 2002.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
A girl with her face mostly covered by red cloth
A young girl shields her face while keeping a watchful eye on the happenings at Maslahk camp in Afghanistan, one of the largest internally displaced refugee camps in the world.
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

“I have been traveling to and reporting from Afghanistan since 2017,” staff photojournalist and foreign correspondent Marcus Yam said. “The 20-year war I have come to know is different from the earlier years of the war: with little or no U.S. military or embed assignments with Western security forces.

“My journey on the last quarter of the war has allowed me to mingle with the Afghan population, where I walk around the cities doing very normal things like buy groceries, get haircuts, follow security protocols to avoid things like suicide attacks and terrorist attacks. I wear local clothes, eat the local delicacies and drive through the country in the car of popular choice: a Toyota Corolla. We’ve covered military airstrikes, funerals, terrorist attacks, observations of daily life, women’s rights, the decline of U.S.-trained Afghan air force, Kabul airport takeover by the Taliban, American weapons superiority used by the Taliban and Taliban justice.

“This year, I’ve spent two or three months in Afghanistan, chronicling the full arc of the American military and coalition force withdrawal, the lasting effects it is leaving behind for the Afghans and the Taliban rise to power. We got to witness an exodus of people clamoring to evacuate, a brutal Taliban regime takeover of the capital of Kabul without firing a single shot, and the violence that stems from the consequences from the change of regime.

“In the final days of the American withdrawal, Islamic State terrorists attacked the airport, killing scores of civilians and service members. The United States’ last act of war was to execute a drone strike that was supposed to target Islamic State militants but instead reportedly caused the deaths of 10 civilians. The Taliban regime began its reign of power by torturing and beating journalists while oppressing free speech among women protesters.”

Cyclists pedal through a downpour in Kandahar, Afghanistan on May 3, 2021.
Cyclists pedal through a downpour in Kandahar, Afghanistan on May 3, 2021. Kandahar, once the Taliban’s spiritual capital, had seen much fighting between government forces and the Taliban on its outskirts.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Men march in formation in front of an officer saluting them
Police recruits are saluted as they march around the parade grounds at the training center in Kabul, Afghanistan. A multiethnic police force and army were being built in Afghanistan in hopes of promoting unity.
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
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A Marine stands guard, seen through a hole in shattered glass
A member of Charlie Company of the 1st Marine Division, 8th Regiment, watches out for enemy snipers amid the rubble of buildings in downtown Fallujah, Iraq.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Two women in burqas walk outdoors
Life for the women of Afghanistan changed dramatically in the years after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. They were allowed to leave their homes without a male escort, attend school and find employment. Some women, like those shown here Aug. 13, 2009, in Kabul, still preferred to wear a burqa.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

“As a young U.S. Army Infantry officer in the Vietnam War, I knew far too well what the savage act of war was like,” former staff photojournalist Don Bartletti said. “As a photojournalist with the Los Angeles Times, I chose to take careful aim at the consequences of the American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Long after military weapon investors tally their profits, the physical and mental anguish heaped upon our brothers in arms and their loved ones should haunt the rest of us forever.”

A boy pirouettes in the wind between a dismembered doll and Muslim men kneeling in prayer on Nov. 2, 2001.
A boy pirouettes in the wind between a dismembered doll and Muslim men kneeling in prayer on Nov. 2, 2001, in Quetta, Pakistan.
(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
Hamid Karzai, center, sits with his supporters at home on Oct. 6, 2001, in, Quetta, Pakistan.
Hamid Karzai, center, sits with his supporters at home on Oct. 6, 2001, in, Quetta, Pakistan. He later became the president of Afghanistan.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)
A dead man lies in the road as Marines walk past the body
Members of Charlie Company of the 1st Marine Division, 8th Regiment, walk past a dead insurgent during a battle in Fallujah, Iraq.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
A U.S. military transport plane flies over on Aug. 30, 2021as relatives and neighbors of the Ahmadi family gather.
A U.S. military transport plane flies over on Aug. 30, 2021, as relatives and neighbors of the Ahmadi family gather around the incinerated husk of a vehicle that the family says was hit by an American drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan. The U.S. military is investigating the incident.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A boy sits up amid rows of people bowed over on the floor in prayer
More than a thousand Iraqi men and boys gather for prayer at the Umm al-Qura Mosque on Oct. 11, 2002, in Baghdad.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
A man carries a bloodied child as a woman lies wounded on the street on Aug. 17, 2021.
A man carries a bloodied child as a woman lies wounded on the street on Aug. 17, 2021, after Taliban fighters used gunfire, whips, sticks and sharp objects to maintain crowd control over thousands of Afghans who wait outside the Kabul airport for a way out.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Taliban fighters in their new uniforms station themselves at a large traffic junction for a nightly security checkpoint.
After the U.S.'s withdrawal from the country, Taliban fighters in their new uniforms station themselves at a large traffic junction for a nightly security checkpoint on Sept. 5, 2021, in Kabul, Afghanistan.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
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Photo editing and introduction by Jacob Moscovitch.