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MICHAEL SULLIVAN: On 9/11, I was in Islamabad, at the Marriot, eating dinner in my hotel room. I'd just finished filing a piece for MORNING EDITION on the assassination of Ahmed Shah Massoud.

MELISSA BLOCK, host: That's former NPR correspondent Michael Sullivan.

SULLIVAN: I'd come out of Afghanistan two days earlier to get my visa renewed. As I ate, I heard something on the TV about a plane striking the World Trade Center. Soon after, I watched in horror as the second plane barreled in and my first thought was a purely selfish one. I'm never going home.

I'd been in Afghanistan for over a month and was eager to see my family, but I knew when that second plane hit that I wouldn't be going home for a long time.

I began fielding calls from my editors about what I knew. What I knew and what I could prove, of course, were two different things, but I knew Osama was definitely behind it. Osama and his band of foreign fighters were the worst kept secret in Afghanistan during the years running up to 9/11. You could drive by his house in Kandahar no problem, and in Kabul, everyone knew where the foreign fighters stayed and which hospital their wounded were taken to after their battles with Massoud's Northern Alliance.

The next few years, frankly, went by in a bit of a blur. I didn't see much of my family. I saw way more of Afghanistan and Pakistan than I cared to. I did lots of stories about hearts and minds and about how change would come, but I never really believed them.

And when the cycle of violence claimed a friend, I wrote his obituary the next morning, though to this day, I still can't watch the video of his beheading.

Here's what I think I know 10 years on. Going after Osama was the right thing to do. Occupying Afghanistan was not. I remember early on what people kept telling us reporters and NGOs. Security, they'd say. We need security. Yes. The Taliban were onerous, but during their rule, you could drive from Kabul to Kandahar at night without fear.

And after so many years of civil war on the Soviets before that, the average Afghan accepted this deal with the devil. Where's the security 10 years on?

So for those who seek to control or even influence events in Afghanistan, I can only urge you to follow the lead of the Brits in the 19th century and the Soviets in the 20th: run away quickly before more lives are lost, many innocents among them.

Run away, but don't stay at the Marriott in Islamabad on the way out. The militants have already blown it up once and failed a few times before that. It's open, but why tempt fate? Try the Serena.

And I've got a Taliban visa dated 9/11 I'll sell to the highest bidder. All proceeds will go to an appropriate Afghan NGO. They're going to need all the help they can get.

BLOCK: That's Michael Sullivan, who spent years covering South and Southeast Asia for NPR.

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