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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Beauty Who Enthralled Found in Afghan Camp

WASHINGTON -- For nearly two decades, National Geographic has been flooded with requests for information about a beautiful Afghan teenager with piercing green eyes whose cover image became one of its most recognized photographs.

But the woman's identity has only just been uncovered after the National Geographic photographer, who first saw her in a refugee camp in Pakistan 18 years ago, finally tracked down the woman in a remote village south of Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

"Every time I went there [to Afghanistan or Pakistan], I asked about her, but I never had any leads," said freelance photographer Steve McCurry, who took the picture for National Geographic in 1984.

McCurry says hardly a day has gone by that people have not asked him about the girl, whose name he did not take down when he took her picture for the January 1985 cover of National Geographic.

This January, he returned to the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in Pakistan where he took the picture and found someone who said he grew up with the woman's brother.

"The refugee camp was set to close and so I knew this was my only chance to find her," said McCurry. "I couldn't believe it when the brother finally turned up with his sister. I knew immediately it was her."

The woman, who is now about 30 years old, was identified as Sharbat Gula. She remembered McCurry taking the picture but had never seen a copy of it and was surprised and embarrassed by all the attention it attracted.

Gula got married after McCurry first saw her and had four daughters, one of whom died in infancy. She was repatriated from the camp in 1992 and returned to Afghanistan with her family.

Her life had been tough in Afghanistan and McCurry said she had struggled to survive.

"What the second picture shows is that she is still alive and survived quite well in fact ... but that pain and hardship is still written in her face."

A conservative Pashtun, Gula sought her husband's permission to lift her veil to show her face for the latest photographs.

McCurry said he saw Gula as a representative of the plight of the Afghan people, who endured an extended war with the Soviet Union and the rise and fall of the Taliban.

National Geographic used several scientific methods to ensure they had found the right woman, including iris recognition in which the colored portion of the eye is examined.