Rocket fire rumbles over the bombed-out capital, Kabul. Thieves and kidnappers are everywhere. Phone and sewage systems have been destroyed.
The people of Afghanistan have suffered from 20 years of war, poverty and harsh rulers. Now they are facing attacks by the United States because Afghan leaders have allowed suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden to remain in their country.
In Afghanistan, only 12 percent of the people have safe drinking water. Children and adults must avoid 10 million land mines that could explode if touched, left over from a 10-year war with the Soviet Union.
Despite their difficulties, many Afghans try to lead life as they have for centuries by farming and tending herds of sheep and goats. Many are nomads, people who have no permanent home but move with their herd. The landscape is breathtakingly rugged, with sweeping deserts, steep mountains and even small glaciers.
Traditional foods are a flatbread called nan and a kind of yogurt called mast, eaten with vegetables, fruit and sometimes rice and meat. Most Afghans are Muslim. Mosques are the center of religious life and mullahs male religious leaders have great influence on the villages.
Invasions and war
Throughout history, Afghans have battled invaders. The land now known as Afghanistan was a key part of the trade route between Europe and India whoever controlled this area controlled trade.
After centuries of invasions, Afghan soldiers learned to use the steep and rocky terrain to their advantage and became known as fierce fighters. Britain tried to control the area, but in 1842 British soldiers were forced to retreat from Kabul. About 4,000 troops attempted to cross the Khyber Pass only one returned alive.
The Soviets also were unsuccessful. They invaded Afghanistan in 1979, setting up a government that they controlled. But they finally left, worn down by the rebels' tactics: Snipers or small groups would ambush isolated Soviet outposts, then disappear into the hills.
During the early 1990s, various Afghan groups fought for control of the country. The group that won and took over in 1996, the Taliban, imposed rules much harsher than most Muslims support. They banned music, shut down movie theaters, burned films and bulldozed bottles of alcohol taken from foreign hotels.
Men were ordered to grow full beards. Women were forbidden from having jobs and were told to cover themselves from head to toe in long veils known as burkas. Girls were not allowed to go to school. Religious police enforce these rules today. Improperly dressed women are beaten. So are men whose beards aren't considered long enough.
Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, tens of thousands of people have fled Afghanistan, fearful of an attack by U.S. forces. They join millions of Afghan refugees who have left the country because of hunger and war.
Meanwhile, there is renewed hope among the Northern Alliance, rebels who have been fighting the Taliban since 1990. Some American officials are talking about supporting the rebels.
Alliance rebels control about 10 percent of the country a very mountainous area in the north. They are believed to have about 15,000 troops.