I was sitting in my home -- a gothic Stalin skyscraper built by German prisoners of war on the Moscow River -- when the second plane hit the Twin Towers. Staring at the TV set in a state of horrified confusion, my ex-fiancé and I sat late into the night, glued to the screen. Some networks showed Palestinians rejoicing in the streets. We spoke about the mujahideen the United States had supported during Afghanistan's war with the Soviet Union. It was all the same thing -- one big regional mess -- but I was too emotional that day to want to consider the implications of American foreign policy.
The United States was clearly posturing for war. The question was where and how I would cover the ensuing conflict. My agent in New York encouraged me to head to Afghanistan, while my ex-fiancé actively discouraged me, even though he was a photojournalist himself. He had photographed the Balkan wars, among others, and had seen more colleagues killed and wounded than he cared to remember. He didn't want me to go, insisting I would be killed or dismembered. Those were certainly distinct possibilities, but I pushed the thoughts out of my mind: How else does one find the courage to go to war?
On Oct. 2, 2001, I left Moscow for Pakistan with a small backpack containing a few pieces of clothing, my cameras, a film scanner, and $800. I was told the assignment would be for four days. Just two days after I arrived in Islamabad, I sat on my bed in the Best Western hotel watching the first U.S. airstrikes against Taliban and al Qaeda targets in Afghanistan -- the first rumbles of a new chapter of my life and a 10-year journey through a region colored by war.
Above: Sayed Hassan sits with his 10-year-old nephew, Noor Mohammed, who lost his right arm, left hand, and both eyes in an American bombing on Dec. 2, 2001, in the Agam district of Nangarhar province.