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Need to know ~ Places

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School children in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 2008

Photo: Robert Romano, US Army, Public Domain

Mountain stream, Afghanistan, January 2014

Photo: Vladimir Lysenko, CC BY-SA 4.0

Why current?


In December 2001, following the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the United States took military action in the country of Afghanistan.  Why?  Because the leader of the group responsible for the attacks – Osama bin Laden – was being harbored by the Taliban, the group controlling most of Afghanistan at that time. (Read more about the Taliban below.)  When the Americans demanded bin Laden be handed over, the Taliban refused, and as a result, the U.S. and its allies entered into a military conflict in Afghanistan.

For years, Osama bin Laden eluded the Americans.  But finally, in 2011, he was located in Pakistan -Afghanistan’s southeastern neighbor – and killed.  Nevertheless, the U.S. presence continued in Afghanistan.  The Taliban had lost much of its power in the meantime, and as a result, big changes came to the country.  New schools and hospitals were set up.  Roads, bridges, and buildings were built or refurbished.  Women gained new rights, allowing them to work outside the home and become engaged in government activities.  Girls were able to go to school.  The Afghans set up a constitution and elected their first president, Hamid Karzai, in 2004.

Unfortunately, Afghanistan’s young government, was unable to control the whole country, as the Taliban continued to try to regain power.  Even though U.S. troops were still active in Afghanistan supporting the government and the military, it was a struggle to ensure security throughout the country.  Then, after almost 20 years of conflict, the Taliban and the Afghan government met to conduct talks, in hopes of putting together a peace treaty.  Although many doubted that these talks would accomplish much and despite the country’s precarious future, then-U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to pull American troops out of Afghanistan in May 2021.

Current President Joe Biden started the actual withdrawal a bit later – in July 2021 – and set the deadline for complete withdrawal for August 31st.  But once America’s troop presence began to diminish, those initial peace talks were derailed, and the Taliban quickly took over parts of the country.  They used force wherever they were met with resistance.

By August 15th, the Taliban had gained control of all major cities in the country.  They had also taken over Kabul, the country’s capital.  The president, Ashraf Ghani, fled, and the government collapsed.

The U.S. rushed to evacuate Americans who wanted to leave the country.  In addition, efforts were made to help those Afghans who had aided the U.S. over the years.  Those people were desperate to leave their country because they feared the Taliban would seek them out and kill them.

Between August 14th and August 30th, the airport in Kabul became a site of conflict, as the Taliban tried to prevent people from flying out.  U.S. military were sent in to aid in the process.  By the time the last U.S. service member was on a flight out of the country, more than 100,000 people had been evacuated from Afghanistan, in just two weeks’ time.  Unfortunately, not everyone was able to leave that wanted to.  Some Americans remain, as well as scores of Afghans who aided the U.S. and who now fear for their lives.

See Afghanistan on Google Earth:  


More about the Taliban and the war in Afghanistan

– The Taliban, who are now in control of Afghanistan, first gained power in the country in the mid-1990s.  They imposed strict laws, based on religious principles that they hold, and were known for brutally punishing or killing those who did not follow those laws.  Under Taliban rule, women had few rights, and girls did not attend school.  Now, people are fearful that the Taliban’s return to power spells an end to the gains made during the last 20 years, when Afghan people began to have more freedoms.  The direct translation of the Pashto word, Taliban, is “students.”

– Casualties over the course of the war in Afghanistan are staggering.  Over 50,000 Afghan civilians  lost their lives.  Almost 70,000 Afghan military and police personnel and over 50,000 opposition fighters died in conflicts.  More than 3500 members of the U.S. military and allied forces were killed.  Billions of dollars were spent.  After 20 years of such loss, the world watches Afghanistan topple under the Taliban once again, leading many to wonder what it was all for.

More about Afghanistan

– Population: 39,945,923

– Official languages: Pashtu and Dari

– Religion: Islam (99% of the people of Afghanistan are Muslim)

– Currency: the Afghani

– Capital city: Kabul (population is 4.3 million)

– Other major cities include Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, and Kandahar.

– Geography: Afghanistan is about the same size as the U.S. state of Texas.  It is located in south-central Asia and borders Iran, Pakistan, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.  This landlocked nation has a mountainous landscape with high peaks that remain snowy for much of the year.  There are dry areas, too, as well as green valleys with rushing rivers.

– Economy: Even though only 12% of Afghanistan is suitable for farming – and only 6% is actually being used for agriculture – its economy is largely sustained by what its farms can produce.  Some of the country’s most important crops include cotton, corn, wheat, vegetables, and rice.  Afghanistan has many natural resources, including copper, lead, zinc, salt, petroleum, and coal.  Some of the country’s biggest industries are the production of soap, fertilizer, and hand-made rugs. Its exports include textiles, precious stones, cotton, and wool.

– Climate: cold, harsh winters; hot, dry summers.

– Wildlife: Animals in Afghanistan have suffered greatly in the last decades.  Long periods of drought, as well as years of violence, warfare, and hunting, have caused several of its most iconic species to completely die out, including the Caspian Tiger.  Species of wolves and bears that used to be abundant in Afghanistan are at the brink of extinction, due mainly to hunting and trapping.  The snow leopard is critically endangered, too, because it has been hunted for its beautiful fur.  Other animals that live in Afghanistan include bats, foxes, lynx, and wild goats.

– People: Many different groups comprise the population of Afghanistan.  Pashtuns make up the largest group and are descended from people who migrated to the region more than 3000 years ago.  They live mostly in the southern part of the country.  The Kuchi people are nomads, meaning they move from place to place.  They have herds of mostly sheep and goats, which they take high into the mountain meadows to graze.  Other groups include Tajik, Uzbek, Pashai, Arab, Pamiri, and Hazara, just to name a few.  They each have their own languages and traditions.  The national anthem mentions fourteen of the groups that make up the population of Afghanistan.  Life expectancy among most people is around 50 years. 

– A national passion:  Flying kites is a beloved Afghan pastime.  People make their own kites and have kite-flying competitions.  Sometimes, glass or wire is built into kites, so that competitors can cut one another’s kite strings.  While flying kites was banned under the Taliban during the 1990s and early 2000s, it returned once the new government was set up and the Taliban had been driven out.  But now that the Taliban are back in charge, kite-flying might disappear once again. 

– A rich cuisine: Lavash is a kind of flat bread that is eaten with meat or cheese and enjoyed at festive gatherings. Kabuli pulao is a traditional dish of rice and lamb flavored with sweet spices.  Savory mantu are meat-filled dumplings, which are often served at special occasions, but also at markets, as street food.  When it comes to drinks, Afghans prefer tea, which is almost always present when people get together.

Sources: BBC, “Taliban are back – what next for Afghanistan?” https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-49192495, August 31, 2021; infoplease.com, “Afghanistan,” https://www.infoplease.com/afghanistanNational Geographic Kids, “Afghanistan,” https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/afghanistan.