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Afghanistan: A journalist's personal reflection

Written by "60 Minutes" associate producer Jeff Newton. Newton has spent a lot of time in Afghanistan and reflects on covering the war for 10 years

When I first began covering the Afghan war, I was 33 years old, weighed 175 pounds and still had a full head of hair. I used to work out by climbing the stone walls of my compound at the Gandamac Hotel in Kabul - a young guy, fit and ready to take the journalism world by storm.

Ten years later, I am 190 pounds, shave my head to hide my receding hairline and have gray hair growing from my beard. What a difference 10 years makes in the life of a war journalist.

I was married when it started and divorced midway through. My passport, so thick with Afghan visas that it resembles a mini-Bible, is the only clue of what toll time took on my family as I pursued my dreams of covering war. Apparently soldiers are not the only ones who struggle to keep their families together.

But as much as my life has changed, for good or ill, the Afghanistan I flew into in the winter of 2001, has largely remained the same.

In 2003, while on assignment for "60 Minutes II," correspondent Lara Logan and I hit a double anti-tank mine along the Pakistan border. It injured a handful of American soldiers when it exploded on a lonely dirt road that day, taking the leg of a man whose seat I had refused moments earlier.

Last year, both Lara and myself were in separate firefights again, in the same eastern part of the country, ambushed by Taliban forces that at the end of 2002, many observers felt we had largely routed. They apparently were not done.

In the beginning, there was hope that America's involvement in the war would bring about change in a country seemingly trapped in the stone ages.

But 10 years in, despite years of wishful reports and overly rosy proclamations, woman are still arrested for fleeing abusive husbands. In many parts of the country, women are still jailed for reporting to authorities that they have been raped. And despite a presence of nearly 100,000 American troops there to help establish good governance and the rule of law, it is still common place for girls as young as 12 or 13 to be forced to marry men who are as old as their grandfathers. Truth is, there is only so much a military can do in a country like Afghanistan.

Yes, there are girl's schools in some parts of the country. But often times, they are closed as fast as they open because fundamentalist Islamists refuse to let Western ideals pollute their views of the role women should play in society. In short, Afghan women are still expected to remain uneducated and are treated as property. So much for progress.

In the early days after the city was taken by the Northern Alliance, I remember sitting in my hammock in my back yard in Kabul and watching rockets go over the house. It was safe enough and part of the fun of war, watching the Taliban shoot at you from afar. But nobody ever paid them much attention. They seldom hit close enough to worry. They used to lob rockets at the U.S. embassy, too. Even the embassy staffers thought it was funny.

This year, Taliban attacked the embassy again, this time by shooting at it for 19 hours from a nearby building. So the fight has now begun to slowly move itself into the city, something never thought possible before.

Roads that I used to drive for fun in 2002 and 2003 outside of Kabul are now no-go areas. Seems the Taliban has begun to move back into the provinces around the capital once held safely by American forces. In fact, it is now much more dangerous to leave the city than it was back then.

It is difficult to watch this war lasting so long. So many Americans killed. So many Afghans caught in the middle. So much blood spent. We had hoped to be out by now, hoped to change mindsets. We thought that the billions of dollars we spent each month would have made a difference in building a democracy that could stand on its own.

But the truth is the country is plagued by the corruption that billions of dollars brings with it. As for the Afghan economy, opium is still the country's number one cash crop. And Afghanistan now has a president, Hamid Karzai, who is so scared of being assassinated, he seldom leaves his own compound.

And we have at least three more years of this left until our troops can all come home.

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