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Journalist who captured hopes of Afghan women and girls says Taliban’s return is ‘devastating’ blow

An acclaimed photojournalist who captured the hopes of women and girls after the fall of the Taliban in 2001 fears they have been ‘abandoned’ after the militants’ return to power in Afghanistan.

Suzanne Plunkett was one of the first women to enter Kabul in a media role following the US-backed invasion in the aftermath of 9/11.

Ms Plunkett, who was based in New York and working for the AP news agency, captured optimistic scenes which included girls starting school for the first time and women taking driving lessons.

The gains followed years of brutal repression by the Taliban, who are said to be re-imposing a draconian sharia code after sweeping back into power.

Ms Plunkett, who also took a series of startling images under the Twin Towers during 9/11, found women emerging from an era of brutal repression when they were largely confined to their homes and subject to stonings and executions for offences such as adultery.

‘When I went into Afghanistan there was this feeling of hope that things were changing for women,’ she said.

‘I was sent there by an editor to get photographs of women because at that point they had only sent men in and they wanted to see some faces of women who weren’t just in burkas.

‘I went in to tell those stories, such as the first day of school for girls and women learning to drive. I really felt like things were changing so it’s just devastating to see what’s happening now.’

Ms Plunkett, who is now freelance, felt a common bond with those she met and is still in touch with her translator from the time who still lives in Kabul, where a fraught and deadly evacuation is taking place at the airport ahead of the US withdrawal date on August 31.

The 51-year-old, who lives in Herts, expressed her fears for the women and girls she met as the final Western coalition troops prepare to pull out of the country following their two-decades long involvement.

‘At the time we had such fun and went around eating ice creams,’ Ms Plunkett said.

‘There was a feeling of getting to know people from other cultures and having a tonne in common with them.

‘I thought it would be like that forever but it was only a very brief window of being able to access Kabul so easily in that timeframe.

‘Now I realise there was this small window it makes me sad to think of the Afghan friends I made. It feels like they’re being abandoned.’

The storyteller was in Afghanistan between January and February 2002, returning around a year later.

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