Reports about conflict zones around the world often depict desolate wastelands of war, civil unrest and human suffering. But some of the world's most dangerous countries are also some of the most pristine. Leave your assumptions aside and take a glimpse into many of the places you frequently hear about but rarely see.
President Barack Obama recently announced that he plans to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016. But 13 years of U.S. military engagement there has largely altered how Americans view the country. Often forgotten are the Hindu Kush Mountains, the Himalayas and the bountiful bodies of water in the spring.
Afghan fisherman starts the day on the Kabul River in Laghman Province. (AFP/Getty)
Band-e Amir, Afghanistan's first national park, high in the Hindu Kush Mountains (Richard Dunwoody/Getty)
Ukraine's geography offers a wide range of climate and terrain, stretching from the Carpathian mountains to the Crimean Sea. The country has primarily been known in recent months for its descent into unrest and uncertainty after protesters demanded the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych in November of last year.
A seascape panorama of the Crimean Peninsula (Getty)
A field of canola flowers, which are used for canola oil production in Ukraine's countryside (Getty)
ISRAEL & PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
Following the recent kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers and the killing of a Palestinian teen, tensions in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict have once again risen to a boiling point. Israel launched an offensive on the Gaza Strip this week, sparking the largest conflict between the country and the militant group Hamas since a battle in November of last year.
Sunrise over Masada in the Judaean Desert (Getty)
Afternoon dive in the Jaffa Port near Tel Aviv (Oded Balilty/AP)
Iraq shares the Tigris and Euphrates rivers with Syria and Turkey, mountain ranges with Turkey and Iran, and deserts with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The country also has a 36-mile stretch of coastline along the Persian gulf.
Dukan Lake, the largest lake in Iraqi Kurdistan (Mark Chivers/Getty)
Delal Bridge in Kurdistan (Tony Wheeler/Getty)
When you think of Iran, you probably don't think of big cats -- but this country in western Asia is home to the endangered Asiatic cheetah.
The endangered Asiatic Cheetah (Getty)
Darbandikhan Lake sits on the border between Iran and Iraq. (Michael Runkel/Getty)
Before the Egyptian revolution began in 2011, launching the country into chaos and prompting a series of changes in leadership, Egypt was perhaps best known for its pyramids and rich history. But the country was rarely recognized for its natural beauty, ranging from deserts to biodiverse seascapes with giant turtles, dolphins, sharks and manta rays.
Green waters of the Red Sea situated on the Sinai Peninsula (Santiago Urquijo/Getty)
Chalk rock formations in Egypt's Western Desert (Eric Teissedre/Getty)
In the midst of a civil war now in its fourth year, it's easy to forget Syria's historic significance. It has been seen as a valuable stronghold throughout history because of its location along essential trade and military routes, and has changed hands among various rulers, including the Sumerians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans and the Muslim Arabs.
The Apamea ruins were built in Syria's Orontes Valley under the direction of Alexander the Great. (Getty)
The Euphrates River (Phillip C Griffin/Getty)
Nigeria has recently received a flood of international attention due to the horrifying kidnapping of more than 260 girls by the Islamist militants of Boko Haram.
White sand beaches in Lagos, Nigeria's most populous city (Getty)
The blooming Poinciana tree in Kaduna State (Irene Becker/Getty)
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
Due in large part to greed over control of the region's lucrative natural resources, the modern history of the DRC has been marred by political unrest, guerilla violence and attacks against civilians.
African Cape Buffalo migrate seasonally to find fresh grazing territory. (David Santiago Garcia/Getty)
Shores of Lake Tanganyika, which straddles the border between Tanzania and the DRC (Guenter Guni/Getty)
In recent years, Yemen has become a strategic stronghold in the war on terror, with multiple terrorist organizations creating outposts in the country.
Dragon trees on the Yemeni island of Socotra, off the Arabian Peninsula (Davor Lovincic/Getty)
Peninsula At Socotra Island (Getty)
CORRECTION: A previous caption in this article stated that the white desert in Egypt featured salt flats, but they are chalk rock formations.