Herat is both a province in northwestern Afghanistan and the name of the provincial capital of that province. In 2003 the population of the city of Herat was generally held to number about 180,000, although some estimates have the population much higher. Even using the lower figure, Herat is the third largest city in Afghanistan and the major city in the country's western region. Close to the Iranian border, the people in the province are largely Persian speakers, although some Turkomans live in the northern area.
Because of its strategic location, Herat has been a fortified town for several thousand years. Mention of it first appears in the Avesta, the holy book of the Zoroastrians (1500 b.c.e.), and scholars have conjectured that the name Herat may be a derivative of Aria, a province in the ancient Persian empire. Alexander the Great built Alexandria Ariorum on the site (330 b.c.e.). During the Afghan war of resistance (1978 – 1992), the city of Herat saw considerable fighting and suffered significant destruction. When the Najibullah government fell in 1992, Isma il Khan, a commander in the Jami ? at-e Islami, took control of the area.
The Taliban captured Herat in 1995, and Is-mail Khan and his fighters fled to Iran. The Taliban installed an administration imposing strict Islamic rule. When the Taliban fell in 2001, Isma ? il Khan returned to Herat and was appointed governor of the province by the Hamid Karzai government. Herat now serves as a major smuggling route for foreign goods coming into Afghanistan, and for the export of Afghan opium.