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Longtime Reporter Recalls Afghanistan Before And After Sept. 11


As we've been talking about this hour, 9/11 changed this country profoundly. You can say the same for other countries around the world. Just 26 days after 9/11, President George W. Bush announced he would send American troops to Afghanistan. The Taliban were quickly driven from power, and eventually Osama bin Laden was captured and killed. But tens of thousands of people have died during the conflict there, and millions have been driven from their homes.

To this day, American troops remain in Afghanistan in what has become the longest war in American history. Through all this, reporter Kathy Gannon was there from the beginning. She covered siege after siege, bombing after bombing. She was critically wounded in the process, her close colleague killed. Gannon joined us from Islamabad in neighboring Pakistan, and I started by asking her about how Afghanistan has changed.

KATHY GANNON: It's been a real tumultuous history for Afghanistan and for Afghans, really. The first part when - between '92 and '96 when many of these same people who are now in power were in power. There was brutal killing and infighting among the different groups, and thousands and thousands of people were killed. And then the Taliban emerged out of that chaos and bloodshed in 1996. And they replaced the fighting with a nether type of brutality.

And now I think for many Afghans, there's a sense of frustration. There's a sense of real disappointment and for some a great deal of anger. They feel that 15 years on that their country really has not moved forward in the way that they had hoped. They wonder where did all the billions that was spent in their country - where has it gone?

SUAREZ: You've spoken briefly about the discouragement that many feel. Were there along the way some opening, some windows, some glimmers of hope? Was there a time when there was a sort of a consensus version of Afghanistan that a lot of common people could actually see coming to pass when the shooting stopped?

GANNON: I think there were certainly - there were a great number of opportunities. And Afghans, as a people, have been very clear on what they would like to see. I mean, they want an end to fighting. They want an end to the constant insecurity. They are looking for a future that is peaceful and moves forward. So I think that people certainly early on had hoped that it would be different. But I think it was pretty soon that they saw the direction it was heading.

SUAREZ: As you look at the coming years, do you imagine we'll be having similar conversations on the 20th, 25th and 30th anniversary of the September 11 attacks?

GANNON: I have to say the short answer is I have no idea, Ray, because one thing about Afghanistan is you can never be sure of what's going to happen next, so there's so many actors at play - factors at play so I don't know what kind of a conversation we'll be having in five years from now. But I certainly think for Afghans their hope is that it won't deteriorate into a civil war situation again. They certainly have a great desire for their country, but it's not really clear that the direction has been set, that the strategy is in place or that there's even an understanding of how to move out of this position that it's in right now.

SUAREZ: That's AP reporter Kathy Gannon. She joined us from Islamabad where she continues covering Afghanistan and the region. Kathy, thanks a lot for joining us.

GANNON: Thank you so much, Ray. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.