Quil Lawrence

David Aquila ("Quil") Lawrence is an award-winning correspondent for NPR News, covering the millions of Americans who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as they transition to life back at home.

Previously, Lawrence served as NPR's Bureau Chief in Kabul. He joined NPR in 2009 as Baghdad Bureau Chief – capping off ten years of reporting in Iraq and all the bordering countries. That experience made the foundation for his first book Invisible Nation: How the Kurds' Quest for Statehood is Shaping Iraq and the Middle East, published in 2008.

Before coming to NPR, Lawrence was based in Jerusalem, as Middle East correspondent for The World, a BBC/PRI co-production. For the BBC he covered the fall of the Taliban in December 2001 and returned to Afghanistan periodically to report on development, the drug trade and insurgency.

Lawrence began his career as a freelancer for NPR and various newspapers while based in Bogota, Colombia, covering Latin America. Other reporting trips took him to Sudan, Morocco, Cuba, Pakistan and Iran.

A native of Maine, Lawrence studied history at Brandeis University, with concentrations in the Middle East and Latin America. He is fluent in Spanish and conversant in Arabic.

Ten years ago Friday, a team of al-Qaida agents carried out an assassination that was the first step in their plan leading to the Sept. 11 attacks. In the north of Afghanistan, suicide bombers posing as journalists killed Ahmad Shah Massoud, the most famous leader of Afghan resistance against Taliban rule.

Today, posters of Massoud still adorn shops around northern Afghanistan, and admirers held a huge commemoration of him Friday near his home.

But 10 years after his death, Massoud's legacy has been overshadowed by a grueling war that grinds on with no end in sight.

Afghanistan is, perhaps, the country most transformed by the Sept. 11 attacks. And yet most Afghans have no clear memories of those world-changing events because, according to best estimates, most of the country's current population was under the age of 10 at that time.

This generation of Afghans has gone from having no television or Internet, to having access to a torrent of media information without much experience filtering truth from rumor.

People living in Afghanistan 10 years ago had little electricity, few radios and almost no televisions to alert them of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington. The news didn't really reach across the country until the American bombing campaign and invasion began a month later. The fall of the Taliban regime at the end of 2001 and the flood of international aid raised hope in Afghanistan.

August brought a grim new statistic from Afghanistan: The death of at least 66 U.S. soldiers, making it the deadliest month for U.S. troops in nearly 10 years of war.

Nearly half of those casualties were the result of the rare shootdown of a Chinook helicopter packed with U.S. Navy SEALs. Of the remaining casualties, many were caused by what the military calls improvised explosive devices, or IEDS — homemade land mines, bombs and booby traps.

As part of the traditional celebration of the end of Ramadan, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pardoned prisoners from Kabul's juvenile detention center. This time it was two dozen youths who had been arrested for planned or attempted suicide bomb attacks, and many were under the age of 12.

Karzai presented the captured suicide bombers on national television — the youngest only 8 years old.

After months of rumors, most observers in Kabul now believe that American officials have met with a Taliban envoy face to face. The most likely interlocutor is Tayyeb Agha, the head of the Taliban political committee and one of a handful of people in the world said to have direct contact with Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban.

The U.S. State Department has funded international student exchanges for decades, looking to form lifelong bonds and increase understanding across borders.

One program brought hundreds of Afghan high school students to small communities in the U.S. beginning in 2004.

But this year, the U.S. has quietly suspended the popular youth exchange. The reason? Fear of a dark future in Afghanistan was prompting too many of the students to bail out of the program and seek asylum elsewhere.

Deciding To Flee To Canada

In case you missed it, June 26 was the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Afghanistan, the world's largest provider of opium poppy, did mark the occasion — with a bonfire.

Standing near an 11-ton mountain of seized opium, hashish and alcohol on the outskirts of Kabul, Gen. Baz Mohammad Ahmadi welcomed officials to the drug-burning ceremony.

Ahmadi, the country's deputy minister for counternarcotics, appealed for a strong international effort against narcotrafficking. He also asked for more cooperation from his own government on the issue.

President Obama's announcement last week that U.S. troops will begin leaving Afghanistan this summer has prompted questions about whether the country's democracy can stand on its own.

Those questions come as the Afghan government has been thrown into disarray. A tribunal appointed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai has revoked 25 percent of the seats awarded last September, reviving a dispute over the parliamentary elections.

The UN is planning to release civilian casualty figures for the month of May this weekend, and the toll could be the highest yet. NPR's Quil Lawrence reports that even though three-quarters of the victims were killed by the Taliban or other militants, it is the U.S. and its NATO allies that bear the brunt of the criticism from Afghans.