Essential Reading: Hollie's Afghanistan Journey
An Editor's Picks Entry
Editor’s note: From time to time, it’s a good thing to do a collections piece that puts the longer story arc into perspective. - Dennis Santiago
Hollie’s substack began in July 2021 as a way to document the journey of one reporter through world events. The first trip of McKay’s chronicle was a trip to Afghanistan to collect cultural material for coffee table book documenting the people of the country as the United States prepared to leave and hand full responsibility for the security of the country over to the Kabul government. Documented in this substack are some milestone articles worth reading about what has changed from Hollie’s perspective from July of 2021 to December of 2022.
The Taliban is taking territory, but it is not yet controlling
major cities or capitals
In this very early entry published on July 29, 2021, Afghanistan is still under the control of the Ghani government. That thought that the country would fall in less than a month is purely a theory.
But in a few days, Hollie would be trapped in the northern city of Mazar i-Sharif as the Taliban swept into power. Looking back, Hollie now describes the experience with the calm demeanor of the professional she is. But as one of the first people she texted as the Taliban rode into the city on their motorcycles, the tension was a fair bit more palpable in that moment.
Love Letter to Afghanistan 🖤
The Taliban says the war is over. But has a new war just begun?
Less than a month later, Hollie wrote this piece as she exited Afghanistan under Taliban escort leaving the country by crossing the border northward via the bridge to Uzbekistan that the leadership of the Northern Alliance fled across as the Taliban took power.
The entry is sorrowful. It was quite clear that day that leaving Afghanistan was the end of an era. For Hollie and everyone else that cared about the country they knew, the realization it was gone hung heavy in the air.
Dispatches from Afghanistan: Returning to the Dungeon’s Lair
Why I made the decision to go back to my work in Afghanistan
Less than a month after fleeing Afghanistan, Hollie returned to the country to begin several months of covering how the now Islamic regime was beginning to govern. She found a country remarkably open, traveling freely under a letter of authorization from the Taliban government visiting locations that would never been possible during the US war.
You are encouraged to rummage this substack for Hollie’s dispatches from Afghanistan from September to December 2021. They are vignettes of a culture in transition from the norms of 21st Century to those of the 7th Century. There are also stories about the problems the Taliban have inherited in running a nation no longer benefitting from massive injections of foreign aid.
More than a year on, what it is really like working as a foreign journalist under the Taliban
A year later, Hollie returned to Afghanistan to find a country firmly under the control of the Taliban. The initial openness of the government was gone as the Taliban attitude gives way to a much less accommodating environment for foreign journalists. This did not stop McKay from doing her job.
Also, in October 2022
Inside Panjshir Valley, the remnants of a forsaken resistance
And finally, the answer to how much of the country the Taliban control. Even as social media continues to purport otherwise, Hollie goes on the ground in the heart of the Panjshir Valley to report that the Taliban victory in complete.
As to the that coffee table book project that started this story, it’s finally coming out. You can pre-order your copy of “Afghanistan: The End of the US Footprint and the Rise of the Taliban Rule”.