Russia, China and Central Asia | Afghanistan | Pakistan | India | Iran | Iraq | Israel and its neighbors 
Northeast Africa | Northwest Africa | Arabian Peninsula | Southeast Asia | MAP


When Soviet troops invaded in 1979, the U.S. — backed by Pakistan, China and Arab countries — armed Afghan fighters and financed military training camps established by Osama bin Laden. After the Soviets were defeated in 1989, infighting erupted, and in 1996 the Taliban militia, which preaches a strict form of Islam, seized most of Afghanistan. They did not control the northern regions, which were held by rival mujahedeen (holy warriors) who fought alongside the Taliban against the Soviets and later became known as the Northern Alliance. Bin Laden has lived in Afghanistan for five years as a “guest” and financial supporter of the Taliban. His camps have become a launching pad for international terrorism. The Northern Alliance is supported by Russia, Iran and India.

Area: 250,000 square miles (slightly smaller than Texas).

Population: 25.8 million. Ethnic Pashtuns — 38 percent — have dominated the country. Most of the Talibans are Pashtuns; the Northern Alliance are Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras.

Economy: Years of war have made Afghanistan one of the world’s poorest countries. Traditional industries, such as carpet making and farming, have been replaced by poppy cultivation and opium production, which is the major source of income.

Key cities: Kabul is the political capital; the Taliban rule from Kandahar, which is considered the spiritual capital.


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