World Press Photo 2020

Contemporary Issues Stories Winner

The Taleban made significant territorial gains and increased its influence in Afghanistan in 2019. Eighteen years after the US invasion, and five years since the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) have been responsible for securing Afghanistan, the Taleban controls or contests around half the country, in some districts acting as a shadow government.

Peace talks that began in January appeared to be nearing agreement in August, but were scuppered by United States President Donald Trump in September. Fighting escalated during talks as both sides tried to gain leverage; while on the ground, the talks provided the Taleban with increasing political legitimacy.

The frequency and spread of Taleban violence left the ANDSF overstretched and in some cases overwhelmed, with a high casualty rate. The escalation of the conflict also severely impacted the civilian population, resulting in high casualties, forced displacement, extreme insecurity, lack of access to education and a weakened public health system.

A report published in June 2019 by the Institute for Peace and Economics named Afghanistan as the world's "least peaceful" country, replacing Syria, though by early 2020 it seemed that a peace agreement was once again a possibility.


Taleban fighters displaying their flag in an area in Khogyani, Afghanistan, previously controlled by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, on Dec 11, 2019. PHOTO: © LORENZO TUGNOLI, ITALY, CONTRASTO, FOR THE WASHINGTON POST


A Taleban fighter in Khogyani, Afghanistan, on Dec 11, 2019. PHOTO: © LORENZO TUGNOLI, ITALY, CONTRASTO, FOR THE WASHINGTON POST


Taleban fighters parading their equipment in a remote hideout in Khogyani, eastern Afghanistan, on Dec 11, 2019. PHOTO: © LORENZO TUGNOLI, ITALY, CONTRASTO, FOR THE WASHINGTON POST


An anti-mine team from the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) detonating an improvised explosive device (IED) found on the Ghazni-Kandahar highway in eastern Afghanistan on Dec 2, 2019. IEDs are one of the leading causes of casualties among civilians and members of the ANDSF. PHOTO: © LORENZO TUGNOLI, ITALY, CONTRASTO, FOR THE WASHINGTON POST