Afghanistan: Facts and Figures

Report Defense

Afghanistan: Facts and Figures

September 17, 2001 2 min read
The Heritage Foundation

Afghanistan is a nation that two decades of almost constant warfare has reduced to one of the most primitive places on earth. A collection of extremely harsh terrains, ranging from arid desert plains to rugged, impassable mountains, make also make the country extremely inhospitable, and contributed to the destitute poverty faces the Afghan people.

The terrain that makes Afghanistan such a difficult place to live has made life equally miserable for invaders that have sought over the ages to conquer the area's local tribes. From the armies of the British empire to the Soviet Union, great nations have found that the rugged landscape of the country to be an enemy in itself.

As American officials make preparations to root out and punish the terrorists responsible for the September 11th strike on America, they must face the reality that U.S. troops might be deployed in the area. In order to learn from the mistakes of forces that were humbled in the past, it is important to understand the area and its inhabitants. To this end, The Heritage Foundation has compiled the following statistics on the country of Afghanistan:


  • Area: total: 652,000 sq km
  • Area - comparative: slightly smaller than Texas
  • Maritime claims: none (landlocked)
  • Terrain: mostly rugged mountains; plains in north and southwest


  • Population: 25,838,797 (July 2000 est.)
  • Life expectancy at birth: 45.88 years
  • Ethnic Groups: Pashtun 38%, Tajik 25%, Uzbek 6%, Hazara 19%, minor ethnic groups (Aimaks, Turkmen, Baloch, and others)
  • Religions: Sunni Muslim 84%, Shi'a Muslim 15%, other 1%
  • Literacy: total population: 31.5%


  • Economy - overview: Afghanistan is an extremely poor, landlocked country, highly dependent on farming and livestock raising (sheep and goats). Economic considerations have played second fiddle to political and military upheavals during two decades of war, including the nearly 10-year Soviet military occupation (which ended 15 February 1989). During that conflict one-third of the population fled the country, with Pakistan and Iran sheltering a combined peak of more than 6 million refugees. In early 1999, 1.2 million Afghan refugees remained in Pakistan and about 1.4 million in Iran. Gross domestic product has fallen substantially over the past 20 years because of the loss of labor and capital and the disruption of trade and transport. The majority of the population continues to suffer from insufficient food, clothing, housing, and medical care. Inflation remains a serious problem throughout the country. International aid can deal with only a fraction of the humanitarian problem, let alone promote economic development. The economic situation did not improve in 1998-99, as internal civil strife continued, hampering both domestic economic policies and international aid efforts. Numerical data are likely to be either unavailable or unreliable. Afghanistan was by far the largest producer of opium poppies in 1999, and narcotics trafficking is a major source of revenue.

  • GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $800 (1999 est.)
  • GDP - composition by sector:
    agriculture: 53%
    industry: 28.5%
    services: 18.5% (1990)
  • Industries: small-scale production of textiles, soap, furniture, shoes, fertilizer, and cement; handwoven carpets; natural gas, oil, coal, copper
  • Exports - commodities: opium, fruits and nuts, handwoven carpets, wool, cotton, hides and pelts, precious and semi-precious gems
  • Imports - commodities: capital goods, food and petroleum products; most consumer goods


  • Military manpower - fit for military service: 3,432,236 (2000 est.)

-Source-The CIA World Factbook (2001


The Heritage Foundation