Editor's note: Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, 28, was released by the Haqqani network in Pakistan last year. He went missing from his base in Paktika province on 2009. Per the Washington Post, he is believed to have grown disillusioned with the US mission in Afghanistan. - Tom
Editor's note: We're seeing reports that gunmen in Afghanistan's Maidan Wardak Province opened fire on a bus, killing multiple civilians. We'll continue to monitor for confirmation and details. - Jimmy
Afghanistan /æfˈɡænɨstæn/ (Pashto/Dari: افغانستان, Afġānistān), officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in Central Asia and South Asia. It has a population of around 31 million people, making it the 42nd most populous country in the world. It 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), making it the 41st largest country in the world.
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, Mughals, Durranis, and others have risen to form major empires.
The political history of the modern state of Afghanistan began with the Pashtun 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.