JMSC Professor Spends Summer Retracing 2001 Journey Across Afghanistan

JMSC Professor Kevin Sites on patrol this summer with the 68th Cavalry Regiment of the US Army in Eastern Afghanistan. (photo: Alex Pena, Stars and Stripes)

JMSC Professor Kevin Sites (top) on patrol this summer with the 6-8 Cavalry of the US Army in Eastern Afghanistan. (photo: Alex Pena, Stars and Stripes)

JMSC professor Kevin Sites spent his summer the way he has spent much of his professional life – swimming with warlords, having his life threatened, nearly getting hit in a mortar attack, and stepping into the middle of ethnic violence between Uzbeks and Tajiks in Northern Afghanistan.

A veteran war correspondent, Sites traveled across Afghanistan from June 26 to August 4 reporting for Vice magazine and Vice.com, retracing the steps he took in 2001 when the U.S., retaliating for the 9/11 attacks, struck back at al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban government that hosted them.

Over the course of the summer, Vice.com published 14 of Sites’s multimedia pieces about his trip, displaying his distinct brand of backpack journalism: combining text with videos and photographs he shot himself. His long-form  article on the trip is scheduled to appear in the October issue of Vice.

The purpose of the trip, Sites said, was to compare Afghanistan in 2001 and now – when American forces are preparing to leave – and to try to determine what if anything has changed.

“And an enormous amount has changed,” Sites said. “That is bound to happen when you firehose hundreds of billions of dollars into the world’s 10th-poorest country. There has been a lot of infrastructure development and growth, but a huge amount of corruption as well.”

“Life has improved for a lot of people with the fall of the Taliban,” Sites said. “There has been an improvement in opportunity and the rights of women.  And there have been people who gained a lot of power and done very well financially; unfortunately, a lot of them are warlords.”

A result, Sites said, is that the critical problems plaguing the country in 2001 – ethnic conflict, drugs, corruption, and outside interference – have actually grown worse.

He said that the international aid and development projects that have flooded the country in the past twelve years have created another problem: a plethora of great paying but unsustainable jobs for educated Afghans. When US military and financial assistance ends, he said, many educated Afghans will find themselves once again outside the government.

Abdul Matin Sarfraz (MJ, 2013), one of Sites’s former students, traveled with Sites the first two weeks of the trip, working as a guide and translator, photographer, videographer, writer and researcher.

Sites is teaching International News and Reporting and Writing in the fall semester at the JMSC.