Overview of Afghanistans Physical Geography and Military Conflict History

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Harvey Mudd College
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Afghanistan is a highly mountainous country in Asia. It is located strategically at the crossroads of major corridors of trade. The major geographical features of the country include Hindu Kush Mountains, Central Highlands, Northern Plains, and a plateau in the Southwestern part of the country (Farley, 2014, p. 6). The central highlands are an integral component of the Himalayas. Afghanistan has a complex terrain which runs from the northeast part of the country to the southwest. The plateaus and deserts run from the west towards the southwest, joining Iran. Afghanistan is landlocked and borders countries such as Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and China (Farley, 2014, p. 7). For a long time, the countrys strategic location has made it an easy target for invasion. The countrys conflicts date back to the Soviet Invasion that took place in 1979. After the invasion, the Afghan Civil War and the Operation Enduring Freedom took place in the country. Despite the differences in casualties, combatants, and the intensity of the wars in Afghanistan, the countrys complex geography made the wars difficult.

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Afghanistan became an independent state in 1919 after defeating the Soviet Union and the British Empire, which were two powerful imperial competitors (Farley, 2014, p. 8). However, the Soviet Union considered the country as a potential communist state. In 1973, the Soviet Union supported a movement to overthrow the monarchy. However, this move was rejected by the people of Afghanistan who perceived it as a strategy by the Soviet Union to bend their will (Guoling, 2002, p. 100). Six years later, the Soviet Union succeeded in establishing a government in Afghanistan, which supported the ideals of communism. The existence of this foreign government triggered Mujahideen resistance. The many ethnic languages came together and fought the troops of the Soviet Union. Eventually, the Taliban replaced the governance of Afghanistan following the exit of the Soviet Union in 1992. Taliban comprised mainly of the Pashtun group.

The emergence of powerful groups in the North of Afghanistan such as the Tajiks and Uzbeks made it difficult for the Taliban to have total control of the government (Sinno, 2015, p. 23). The strategic Hindu Kush Mountains offered the rival groups a buffer zone upon which they opposed the leadership of the Taliban. Specifically, these groups rejected total compliance with Sharia Law as advocated by the Taliban. To combat the Northern rebellion, the Taliban allowed al-Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, to thrive in Afghanistan (Farley, 2014, p. 11). By that time, al Qaeda focused on global jihad. The international community ignored Afghanistan until September 11, 2001, when Al Qaeda-sponsored terror occurred in New York City.

The terror attack placed much focus on Afghanistan, leading to the formation of the United States-led coalition of the willing. This coalition operated on the basis of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and focused on replacing the Taliban and al Qaeda (Urban, 2016, p. 9). The international forces in Afghanistan supported the Northern Alliance and set up an army in Afghanistan. Although started at the beginning of the new millennium, OEF in Afghanistan took longer than a decade. The mission of the war was made clear by President Bush. It was meant to decimate terrorist camps and the infrastructure that supported terrorist activities (Sinno, 2015, p. 26).

The countrys geographic position coupled with the polarized society of diverse ethnic groups has caused internal power struggles and precipitated violence. The Afghanistan War Diary documented how the countrys geography could have aided in the past wars regarding latitudes and longitudes, the region of operation, and military grid coordinates (Guoliang, 2002, p. 102). About half of OEF took place in only three provinces out of the countrys thirty-four provinces. The provinces include Kunar, Qandahar, and Helmand. Farley (2014) opined that the three provinces where OEF took place are geographically distinct compared to the provinces around them, thereby making them potential war hotspots (p. 12). Geographical distinction refers to extremes in geographical outlook. It includes provinces that were very mountainous or highly agricultural.

Weather Analysis

Afghanistan experiences cold winters and dry summers. The mountainous regions have subarctic mountain climate while the lower regions of the country experience arid and semi-arid climates. During summer, temperatures can be as high as 49 0C while winters can be as low as -9 0C (Climate Change Fuels Insurgency in Afghanistan, 1). Afghanistan is said to be vulnerable to the changes in weather and climate. The countrys economy is majorly dependent on agriculture. In this regard, the farmers in the country rely on reliable water to irrigate crops and enhance production. This water is derived from melting snows in the mountains. Persistent drought in the country in the last two decades has devastated many farmers. In the past, it was difficult to move during the winter because of heavy snow. Currently, the lack of water has made many farmers stop cultivating crops.

Climate change has caused serious devastation in the country and threatened to the availability of snow. The disasters attributed to climate change such as drought can lead to the loss of farm produce, which may affect the livelihood of the people in rural areas. The effect of droughts can trigger young people to join the militant groups such as the Taliban (Climate Change Fuels Insurgency in Afghanistan, 1). Increased mobility of the Taliban insurgents has been made easier by the melting snows, leading to increased attacks in the northern part of the country.

Civil Consideration: ASCOPE


The city of Kabul is Afghanistans administrative and economic capital. Most human activities revolve around this city. Other areas in the country include Herat, Maar-e-Sharif, and Kandahar.


The countrys infrastructure comprises the main highway which is also called the Ring Road. The Hindu Kush Mountains separate Afghanistan into three regions. It becomes difficult to travel from one region to another due to the poor road infrastructure. The Ring Road connects the Kabul (the capital city) with Kandahar, Herat, and Maar-e-Sharif (Guoliang, 2002, p. 103). It was during the Soviet Invasion that major reconstruction works were undertaken under the auspices of the United States. There are other small roads through the mountains which cannot accommodate modern models of vehicles. Railway construction in the country started after the invasion by the United States. Chinas desire to export minerals through Pakistan has led to the construction of a new railway line in the western part of the country (Farley, 2014, p. 13). The rail passes through Kwacha and Herat regions of the country. The construction of a separate rail line is taking place along between Mazar-e-Sherif and Termez.


Afghanistan has 200,000 troops who serve in the frontline actively. However, the country has eight million people who are fit to serve in the military. The country land systems comprise main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, and self-propelled guns (Urban, 2016, p. 10). Apart from the land systems, Afghanistan has military aircrafts, helicopters, attack aircrafts, and interceptors.


Due to perennial conflicts in the country, many terrorist organizations have sprouted in Afghanistan. The Taliban comprises of Pashtun and Sunni Muslims. This organization has been fighting back to regain control of Afghanistan since it was ousted by a combined strategy of OEF and the Northern Alliance (Urban, 2016, p. 12). The members of this organization receive training from Pakistan. This explains the tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Other organizations include Tehreek-ee-Taliban and Tehrik-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi.


The people of Afghanistan speak forty native languages. The different ethnic groups include the Pashtun, Uzbek, Pashai, Tajik, and Aimak among others (Urban, 2016, p. 13). The countrys national anthem recognizes at least fourteen different ethnic groups. Afghanistan has a head of state who is also the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces. The current president is Ashraf Ghani.


For many years, Afghanistan has held democratic elections. Institutions that conduct elections have varied considerably with regime changes. In 2003, Constitution of Afghanistan was established and gave rise to the existing electoral system.

Society, Culture, Social Structure, Language, Interest, Power and Authority

President Ghanis government comprises two deputy presidents and a council of ministers. The vice presidents are Abdul Rashid and Sarwar Danish. The country has provincial governors who head its respective provinces (Barfield, 2010, p. 3). The national assembly serves as the legislative arm of the government. It comprises the House of People as well as the House of Elders. The country has a Supreme Court that serves in the judiciary and provides the necessary checks and balances.

The culture and society in Afghanistan are predominantly Islamic. This culture influences the personal, economic, and political lives of the people in the country. For example, Islam requires Muslims to conduct daily prayers at five intervals. Every Friday, Muslims are required to observe a holy day. Consequently, it affects government functions since government offices are closed (Barfield, 2010, p. 6). Ramadhan is a holy month for all Muslims in which they fast and pray. The Afghan culture recognizes the family as an important unit. Tradition defines the roles for men and women.

Afghanistan has two official languages. They include Pashtu and Dari. At the advent of Zahir Shahs leadership, Pashtu became the National language, while Dari has been a language for business and communications within government (Barfield, 2010, 12). About half the population in Afghanistan speaks Dari compared to 35 percent that speaks Pashtu. Both languages have an Indo-European origin. Other languages in Afghanistan include Turkic, Baluchi, and Nuristani.


Barfield, T. (2010). Afghanistan: A cultural and political history. Princeton University Press.

Climate change fuels insurgency in Afghanistan.' The National. Retrieved from http://www.thenational.ae/world/central-asia/climate-change-fuels-insurgency-in-afghanistan

Farley, M. L. (2014). Military Geography of Afghanistan: A Comparative Geospatial Analysis of the Soviet War and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). University of North Carolina. Retrieved from https://cdr.lib.unc.edu/indexablecontent/uuid:3a29118c-158f-4803-84f8-83ad163e9e5a

Guoliang, W. (2002). The perspective of political and military geography of Afghanistan. World Regional Studies, 11(1), 100-104.

Sinno, A. H. (2015). Organizations at war in Afghanistan and beyond. Cornell University Press.

Urban, M. (2016). War in Afghanistan. Springer.

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