For nearly three years now, I've been posting monthly photo essays on the war in Afghanistan, and a question I hear fairly often is, "Why do you do this?" My intent is to continue to focus attention on what is actually happening on the ground -- far from policy debates or speeches. As long as we, as a nation, are sending thousands of men and women into harm's way and tasking them with acting on our behalf in a foreign country, we need to be aware of what we are asking them to do, what their lives are like, and what the lives of the Afghan people are like. This is true even if the conflict has been going on for more than a decade -- and even if we don't all agree on whether we should be there at all. As of April 12, 120,000 soldiers from 50 nations are committed to Afghanistan, with 90,000 of them from the United States. All are working toward the planned 2014 withdrawal. Gathered here are images of those involved in this conflict over the past month, as part of the ongoing series here on Afghanistan.
An Afghan woman looks into the camera in Mazar-i Sharif, capital of Balkh province, on March 30, 2012. Mazar-i Sharif means "Respected Shrine" but the city is known by tourists as the city of the blue mosque which is located in the center of the city known as the Shrine of Hazrat Ali.
(Qais Usyan/AFP/Getty Images)
Parents and wife of Cpl. Michael J. Palacio, 23, from Lake Elsinore, California, hold on to flags presented to them during a memorial service and funeral in Orange County, California, on April 10, 2012. Palacio died while participating in combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan, on March 29, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
(USMC/Cpl. Khoa Pelczar)
Gunfire and smoke come from the a building occupied by militants during a battle with Afghan-led forces, in Kabul, on April 16, 2012. The Afghan capital awoke to a second day of explosions and heavy gunfire as Afghan-led forces worked to defeat insurgents holed up in the building in the heart of the city and another near parliament.
(AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq)
The feet of dead Taliban insurgents, after they were killed inside a building in Kabul, on April 16, 2012. Heavy street fighting between militants and security forces in the center of the Afghan capital Kabul ended after 18 hours of intense gunfire, rocket attacks and explosions, police and government officials said.
Afghan policemen are mirrored in glass from a broken window as they stand guard outside the building where Taliban fighters launched an attack in Kabul on April 16, 2012. A total of 36 Taliban militants were killed as they mounted a wave of attacks across Afghanistan, Interior Minister Bismillah Mohammadi said.
(Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Aaron Burnett, scout sniper with 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 6, runs his ghillie suit through the mud and water on Forward Operating Base Jackson, Helmand province, on April 20, 2012. The snipers were breaking in their ghillie suits to resemble the local dirt and vegetation.
(USMC/Sgt. Logan W. Pierce)
Yeager, an IED detection dog, lies in front of a battlefield cross as Staff Sgt. Derick Clark, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael Dale Reeves observe a moment of silence in honor of Lance Cpl. Abraham Tarwoe, a dog handler and mortarman who served with Weapons Company, 2nd Bn., 9th Marines, during a memorial service on April 22, 2012. Tarwoe, who became Yeager's handler in July 2011, was killed in action during a dismounted patrol in support of combat operations in Helmand province's Marjah district on April 12.
(USMC/Cpl. Alfred V. Lopez)
A U.S. soldier shouts at a cameraman at the scene of a suicide attack in Maimanah, Afghanistan ,on April 4, 2012. A suicide bomber blew himself up killing at least 10 people, including three NATO service members, officials said. A senior U.S. defense official has confirmed that two U.S. soldiers were among three NATO forces killed in the attack.
(AP Photo/Gul Buddin Elham)
U.S. Army National Guard Specialist Wilson Berlin, a Security Force (SECFOR) member of Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Farah, works on his weapon system while pulling security on Forward Operating Base (FOB) Farah, Farah Province, Afghanistan on April 3, 2012.
(ISAF/Staff Sgt. Jonathan Lovelady)
Roosters duel during a cockfighting match in Kabul, on April 20, 2012. Cockfighting, known as "Murgh Janghi" in the Afghan Dari language, is a popular game among Afghans during the winter season, which was once banned by the Taliban rulers. Each fight starts following an agreement of the owners of roosters and the amount of betting by spectators. The heels and bills of the birds are sharpened before fights, which run around 4-6 rounds with each round lasting between 10 to 20 minutes with a gap of 5 minutes between bouts. Some 100,000 to 200,000 Afghanis (2,000 to 4,000 USD) can exchange hands among spectators placing bets during these fights.
(Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)
Injured U.S. Army dog handler Aaron Yoder and his dog Bart, attached to Alpha troop 4-73 Cavalry Regiment, 4th brigade 82nd Airborne division, are evacuated in a helicopter during a fire exchange with Taliban fighters while on a mission in the Maiwand district in Kandahar province, on April 9, 2012.
Matt Kinsey, who served in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, readies himself to run to second base during the Wounded Warrior Amputee Celebrity Softball Classic at Nationals Park in Washington, DC, on April 3, 2012. With a team comprised of veterans and active duty service members from across the United States who lost limbs while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, members of the Washington Nationals Wounded Warrior softball team travel the country competing against able-bodied opponents.
(Win McNamee/Getty Images)