19th Century Anglo-Afghan Wars – a history lesson for today?

With the US / NATO mission in Afghanistan being very much at the forefront of US military strategy deliberations, and trans-Atlantic policy discussions, this new book from Osprey Publishing couldn’t be more timely.  And of course, with all rubbish that gets talked by people who think they know Afghan history, this book should go a long way towards providing an accessable and absorbing account of what really happened back then.

Beginning in the 19th century Britain entered into three brutal wars with Afghanistan. The first two (1839–42 and 1878–81) were wars of the Great Game; the British Empire’s attempts to combat growing Russian influence near India’s borders. The third, fought in 1919, was an Afghan-declared holy war against British India – which saw over 100,000 Afghans answer the call – and that would prove too much for the post-WWI British Imperial army to deal with.

Each of the three wars was plagued by military disasters, lengthy sieges and costly engagements for the British.  They were also marked by torturous experiences of the men on the ground – colourfully summed up by the famous lines from Rudyard Kipling, “When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains, and the women come out to cut up what remains, just roll on your rifle and blow out your brains.  And go to your God like a Soldier.”

The book concludes with a brief overview of the background to today’s conflict in Afghanistan, and sketches the historical parallels.



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