Afghanistan, officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in Central Asia and South Asia. It has a population of approximately 31 million people and is bordered by Pakistan in the south and east; Iran in the west; Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan in the north; and China in the far northeast. Its territory covers 652,000 km2 (252,000 sq mi).
Human habitation in Afghanistan dates back to the Middle Paleolithic Era, and the country’s strategic location along the Silk Road connected it to the cultures of the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia. Through the ages the land has been home to various peoples and witnessed many military campaigns, notably by Alexander the Great, Arab Muslims, Genghis Khan, and in the modern-era by Western powers. The land also served as a source from which the Kushans, Hephthalites, Samanids, Ghaznavids, Ghorids, Khiljis, Mughals, Durranis, and others have risen to form major empires.
The political history of the modern state of Afghanistan began with the Hotaki and Durrani dynasties in the 18th century. In the late 19th century, Afghanistan became a buffer state in the “Great Game” between British India and the Russian Empire. Following the 1919 Anglo-Afghan War, King Amanullah and King Mohammed Zahir Shah attempted modernization of the country. A series of coups in 1973, 1978, and 1979 was followed by a Soviet invasion and a series of civil wars that devastated much of the country.
Following the September 11 attacks in the United States the US government identified Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda as the perpetrators of the attacks, and demanded that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, founded by the Taliban on 27 September 1996 hand over bin Laden. After refusing to comply with the US demand, the October 2001 Operation Enduring Freedom was launched. During the initial invasion, US and UK forces bombed parts of Afghanistan and worked with ground forces of the Northern Alliance to remove the Taliban from power and destroy al-Qaeda training camps.
In December 2001, after the Taliban government was toppled and the new Afghan government under Hamid Karzai was formed, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was established by the UN Security Council to help assist the Karzai administration and provide basic security. Taliban forces also began regrouping inside Pakistan, while more coalition troops entered Afghanistan and began rebuilding the war-torn country.
Shortly after their fall from power, the Taliban began an insurgency to regain control of Afghanistan. Over the next decade, ISAF and Afghan troops led many offensives against the Taliban but failed to fully defeat them. Afghanistan remained one of the poorest countries in the world due to a lack of foreign investment, government corruption, and the Taliban insurgency.
Meanwhile, the Afghan government was able to build some democratic structures, and, on 7 December 2004, the country changed its name to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Attempts were made, often with the support of foreign donor countries, to improve the country’s economy, healthcare, education, transport, and agriculture. ISAF forces also began to train the Afghan armed forces and police. In the decade following 2002, over five million Afghan refugees were repatriated to the country, including many who were forcefully deported from Western countries.
By 2009, a Taliban-led shadow government began to form in many parts of the country. US President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. would deploy another 30,000 U.S. soldiers to the country in 2010 for a period of two years. In 2010, Karzai attempted to hold peace negotiations with the Taliban and other groups, but these groups refused to attend and bombings, assassinations, and ambushes intensified.
After the May 2011 death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, many prominent Afghan figures were assassinated, Afghanistan–Pakistan border skirmishes intensified, and many large scale attacks by the Pakistani-based Haqqani Network took place across Afghanistan. The United States warned the Pakistani government of possible military action within Pakistan if the government refused to attack these forces in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, as the United States blamed rogue elements within the Pakistani government for the increased attacks. The Pakistani Army began to intensify their attacks against these groups as part of the War in North-West Pakistan.
Following the 2014 presidential election President Hamid Karzai left power and Ashraf Ghani became President on 29 September 2014. In anticipation of the 2014 NATO withdrawal and a subsequent expected push to regain power by the Taliban, the anti-Taliban United Front (Northern Alliance) groups have started to regroup under the umbrella of the National Coalition of Afghanistan (political arm) and the National Front of Afghanistan (military arm).