At the Kabul Zoo, gun-toting Taliban mingle with families and children.

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At the Kabul Zoo, gun-toting Taliban mingle with families and children.

At the Kabul Zoo, Taliban soldiers wielding AK-47s and M16 assault weapons mingle with families, a unique experience for many of the young fighters from rural Afghanistan.

While tourists enjoy ice cream and salted pomegranate seeds in the shaded grounds, highly armed Taliban fighters stare into the cages housing lions, leopards, camels, wolves, ostriches, and macaques.

After years of fighting in the countryside, many of the soldiers had never been inside a large city, let alone a zoo.

They take selfies and pose for group shots, but the relative calm is abruptly disrupted as one of the fighters grabs a deer by its antlers and his friends erupt in laughter.

Hundreds of armed Taliban warriors — and many more without weapons – gather after Friday prayers, wearing traditional caps, turbans, and shawls. Some wore the popular eye makeup worn by Afghan guys.

Abdul Qadir, a 40-year-old Taliban member who now works for the interior ministry, said he was out sightseeing with some male pals.

He says, “I truly adore animals, especially those that can be found in our country.” “I am a huge fan of lions.”

When asked about the armed presence, which is unheard of in other zoos throughout the world, he explains the Taliban wanted guns banned from the event so that “children or ladies should not feel intimidated.”

In a capital with little public space for anybody but men, the zoo has long been a haven for women, children, and young lovers.

Six armed men from the Taliban’s intelligence directorate huddle for a team photo with a turbaned mullah, wearing full military fatigues, combat webbing overflowing with ammunition and steel handcuffs, peaked caps and knee pads.

The shot is coordinated by the designated photographer, who is then extensively reviewed by the group.

One of the warriors gives a thumbs up, with a Taliban flag sticking out of his magazine pouch, indicating their agreement.

Later, a different gang of shooters offers their firearms to eight-year-old boys who take pictures with their cellphones.

The star of the show is a lion named simply “White Lion,” who sleeps on a deck in its 20-by-30-meter enclosure.

Marjan, a male lion who was a symbol of Afghan endurance, lived through coups, invasions, civil war, and the Taliban’s initial rule until his death in 2002, was the zoo’s most treasured resident.

A bronze statue of a huge cat that was previously hurt by a. Brief News from Washington Newsday.

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