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Mónica Villamizar Headshot

Rag-tag Bazaars of War Goods in Afghanistan

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When war is your primary commodity, almost everything becomes expensive. Recently a young Afghan man told me about his own version of the dutch disease -- weddings. Such a fundamental rite of passage has spiraled to around 20 thousand dollars a pop here. It is the consequence of an economy flushed with cash, and skewed towards bullets and military build up.

There is now a flourishing black market in military hardware in Kabul, known by the locals as the Bush Bazaar. Here among the open-air alley of stands, the rumour is that you can buy anything from weapons to custom-fitted body armour. Someone who claims to be familiar with the black market trade explains the deal: you get measured up and then come back a mere couple of days later for your gear. The euphemism here is "fallen off the truck," but everyone knows most of this kit has been stolen from the cargo drivers that supply the military bases.

We followed the trail to Bagram Airfield, the largest base in the country and a primary site for picking up hot goods. Because the roads in Afghanistan are so poor, Bagram is a vital artery for bringing in goods, with its double tarmac runway that can land all types of cargo planes. Around the base, military vehicle parts, equipment old and new, and even treadmills used by soldiers to exercise, pile up in open lots. The rag-tag bazaar of war and nervous peace.

When we arrive to film, armed guards quickly tell us to stop. Fazidulla, a man supervising workers loading scrap metal onto a truck, tells us that several businessmen own each of the lots, which are sometimes as big as a football field. He doesn't know if the machines are new or used, or how they got there. His business is recycling, and it pays well -- a monthly net profit of 20 thousand dollars.

A vendor of a market stand outside the Bagram base insists that the uniforms and boots for sale were all found in the garbage. The camouflage gear sold in the bazaar is pricey, but sells like hotcakes anyway. The base is a typical military-style fortress with watchtowers and checkpoints. It also houses a prison for suspected Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. But, even under such tight security the flow of goods doesn't stop, day or night.

Military goods from inside the wire end up in Bargam Bazar from monica villamizar on Vimeo.