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Hope and Despair: 35 Years of Kathy Gannon in Afghanistan

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The Associated Press

Associated Press

Kathy Gannon

Kabul, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan police officers fired at us with an AK-47 and shot 26 bullets behind the car. I emptied it. Seven people hit me, and at least as many people hit my colleague, the Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus. She died on my side.

She could barely whisper "Please help me".

Our driver took us to a small local hospital in Khost, sounding a siren. I tried to calm down. At the hospital, Dr. Abdul Majid Mangal tried to reassure me that he had to have surgery. His words are forever engraved in my heart. "Know that your life is important to you and to me."

Long after, during the process that ultimately requires 18 operations. When he recovered in New York, a friend of Afghanistan called from Kabul and apologized for the shooting on behalf of all Afghans. ..

I said the shooter does not represent the nation, the nation. For me, it was Dr. Mangal who represented Afghanistan and Afghanistan.

Over the last 35 years, I have reported on AP's Afghanistan in an unusual series of events and changes in the regime. Throughout all that, the kindness and resilience of ordinary Afghans shined. It is also very painful to see the slow erosion of their hope.

I am always surprised that the Afghans were stubbornly sticking to face all the difficulties. But by 2018, Gallup's survey found that the percentage of people with hope for the future in Afghanistan was the lowest ever recorded.

I arrived in Afghanistan in 1986 in the midst of the Cold War. It seems to be a lifetime. is.

And the enemy attacking Afghanistan was the former Soviet Union of Communism, which was called Godless by US President Ronald Reagan. The defenders were US-backed religious Mujahideen, defined as those engaged in the Holy War, defended by Reagan as a freedom fighter.

At that time, the message of God vs. Communism was strong. The University of Nebraska has even created an anti-communist curriculum to teach English to millions of Afghan refugees living in neighboring Pakistani camps. The university has simplified the alphabet. J was for a holy war against jihads or communists. The K was for the Kalashnikov gun used in Jihad and I was for the Infidels who described the Communists themselves.

There was even a math program. The question is as follows. If you had 10 Communists and you killed 5, how many would you have left?

When I covered the Mujahideen, I spent a lot of time and effort walking stronger, longer, climbing harder and faster. At one point I ran out of dirty mud huts with them and hid under nearby trees. Only a few minutes later, the Russian helicopter's gunship flew low, strafing the trees and almost destroying the hut.

The Russians withdrew in 1989 without victory. In 1992, the Mujahideen came to power. But it didn't take long for the Mujahideen to point their guns at each other.

AP lost equipment to the thief's warlord three times, but was returned after negotiations with the best warlord. One day I counted 200 rockets in and out within minutes.

The bloodletting of the Mujahideen, Minister of Government and Warlords has killed more than 50,000 people. I saw a 5-year-old girl killed by a rocket when she left her house.

Despite the turmoil of the time, Afghanistan still had hope.

During the decline of Mujahideen rule during the war, I attended a wedding in Kabul. There, both the wedding party and the guests regained their composure and were truly fascinating. When asked why he looked so good in a relentless rocket, a young woman replied brightly, "I'm not dead yet."

The wedding was delayed twice because of the rocket.

By mid-1996, the Taliban had stood at the doorstep of Kabul, promising to grow burqas for women and beards for men. As international sanctions crippled Afghanistan, the Taliban Muhammad Omar in one eye approached al-Qaeda, eventually making terrorist groups the only source of income for the Taliban.

Then came the impact of the 9/11 earthquake.

Many Afghans mourned the death of a distant American. Few people even knew who Osama bin Laden was. But this country is now a head-on target in the eyes of the United States. AP's longtime correspondent, Amir Shah, summarized what most Afghans were thinking at the time. He said, "America will set fire to Afghanistan."

And it did.

I was the only Western journalist to see the last week of Taliban domination. The US-led Allied attack began on October 7, 2001. A powerful US B-52 bomber hit a hill and even landed in a city.

On November 12, that year, a 2,000-pound bomb landed on a house near the AP office. It threw me across the room and blew off the windows and door frames. The glass shattered into pieces and was sprayed everywhere.

By the next sunrise, the Taliban had left Kabul.

The next rulers of Afghanistan marched into the city: Mujahideen is back.

Despite taking Bin Laden from Sudan to Afghanistan in 1996, the United States and the United Nations brought them back into power and promised him a safe haven. Afghanistan's hope went through the roof because it believed that the powerful United States would help control the Mujahideen.

Still, anxious signs began to appear. Revenge and murder began, and US-led coalitions sometimes joined without knowing the details. The Mujahideen mistakenly identified his enemy as belonging to the al-Qaeda or Taliban.

Meanwhile, corruption seems to have reached a spectacular rate, often with suitcases from the CIA handed over to Afghanistan's allies in Washington. Still, schools were built, roads were rebuilt, and at least in cities, a new generation of Afghans grew up with freedoms their parents didn't know, often watching with suspicion.

Then there was a life-changing shootout.

It was two years ago that I was able to work and return to Afghanistan.

By that time, disappointment and disillusionment with America's longest war had already begun. Despite the United States spending more than $ 148 billion on development alone in 20 years, the proportion of Afghanistan who barely survived at poverty levels has increased each year. ..

In 2020, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement for the military to withdraw within 18 months.

On August 15, it was the sudden secret departure of President Ashraf Ghani that finally brought the Taliban back to the city. The Taliban's rapid march to Kabul rushed towards the airport. For many in the Afghan capital, the only hope left was to leave.

Currently, the future of Afghanistan is even more uncertain. Dozens of people are lined up outside the bank to try to withdraw their money. The hospital is short of medicine. Afghans will be faced with the fact that in 2001 the whole world came to its country and spent billions of dollars, but could not bring about prosperity or even the beginning of prosperity.

I leave Afghanistan with mixed feelings. It's sad to see how that hope was destroyed and still deeply impressed by 38 million people.

But definitely I'll be back.