In our February 28 issue, you’ll read about child brides in Afghanistan. A landlocked and mountainous country in central Asia, Afghanistan has endured military invasions and unrest since antiquity.
Afghanistan is a key country geographically. It connects the often volatile Middle East with central Asia and the Indian subcontinent.
• With little reliable infrastructure, Afghanistan is one of the poorest and least developed nations in the world. Before the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, Afghans suffered under the Taliban, a repressive Islamic regime. • The U.S.-led war has its roots in the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan three decades ago.
• In 1979, when Islamic guerrillas threatened to topple the Communist-leaning government in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, the Soviet Union invaded. • Seven years later, the U.S. began to arm the Islamic guerrillas, known as the mujahedeen , who were battling the Soviets. By 1989, after 10 years of a bloody and desperate war, the Soviets gave up and went home.
• The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, were planned by Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders. The terrorist group had been allowed into Afghanistan by the Taliban. • Vowing to find bin Laden and overthrow the Taliban, President George W. Bush ordered a U.S. invasion in October 2001. The Taliban fell quickly, but bin Laden escaped into the mountains along the Pakistan border.
• In 2004, Hamid Karzai was elected President of Afghanistan in democratic elections. He was elected to a second term in 2009, amid widespread accusations of fraud. • So far, Karzai has proved unable to rebuild the country’s damaged infrastructure, halt rampant government corruption, and stop the resurgent Taliban, which has gained strength in recent years and now controls parts of the country.
• In 2009, President Obama sent 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, bringing the total to 100,000. These forces, Obama says, will start to withdraw in July 2011. Many Americans want an immediate end to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Others say that the country’s instability could breed more terrorism. • Opinions in Afghanistan are mixed about the U.S. occupation. Many Afghans resent the foreign intrusion, but others, especially women, fear that a U.S. withdrawal will mean a return to repression under the Taliban. • More than 1,470 Americans have been killed in the war to date. It is thought that tens of thousands of Afghan civilians have also been killed.