The First Anglo-Afghan War 1838-1842

A.) The Situation Preceding the War

The (British) East India Company and Russia competed for influence in Central Asia, even in areas far beyond the borders of territories under their control. In 1838, the EIC dispatched an army to establish the man of her choice, SHAH SHUJAH, on the throne in Kabul - and to dethrone DOST MOHAMMED, the man who just had ascended to the throne of Afghanistan.

B.) The Cource of Events

An army of 16,500 fighting men and a camp of 38,000 persons accompanying them marched off in early 1838, taking the route through Sindh and the Bolan Pass, where it arrived early in 1839. They occupied Kandahar on April 25th, took GHAZNI, hitherto regarded impregnable, and arrived outside Kabul on June 30th.
Within Kabul the troops were garrisoned in violation of all military rules of precaution. On November 3td 1840, Dost Mohammed surrendered to EIC forces and was sent to exile in India; the goal seemed to have been accomplished.
In Kabul as well as in all Afghanistan, the mood turned very much against the occupants. On Nov. 1st, Alexander Burnes was assassinated by the mob, virtually hacked to pieces; on Nov. 23rd a British detachment was assaulted, and barely made it back into garrison, leaving 300 dead on the field. Dost Mohammed's son, Mohammed Akbar, arrived at the head of 6000 men and took command of the rebellion, which was 30,000 strong (Dec. 1840). Kabul being impossible to hold, the British decided to retreat (Jan. 1842). On January 8th they were ambushed at the Khoord-Cabool Pass; the EIC forces were trapped, and annihilated within a week. None of them returned.
The EIC again sent an army into Afghanistan, which again took Ghazni and tore down its defences. Mohammad Akbar lured Shah Shujah out of Kabul and had him murdered. Kabul was taken, the hostages held by Mohammed Akbar liberated, the goal of the punishment expedition accomplished; the EIC forces pulled out of Kabul October 11th 1842, taking the route via the Khyber Pass.

C.) Legacy

Afghanistan continued to be a strategically located country, the Khyber Pass as the route to India taken by so many invasions of critical importance for the EIC and her successor, the British Crown. Two more wars would be fought over it.
The son of Shah Shujah soon was deposed, Afghanistan slipped out of EIC control. The EIC, in order to have some influence on Afghanistan, permitted Dost Mohammed to return and seize the throne. He pursued a policy amiable to the British for the rest of his life.
As the annihilation had proven the vulnerability of EIC forces, its memory was held up by militarist factions for generations to come. And the Afghanis had collected the arsenal of the EIC army annihilated in 1842.

The First Afghan War from Alex's Military History Homepage
First Afghan War 1839-1842, from
First Afghan War 1838-1842, from British
DOCUMENTS From British Military Medals : Ghuznee (Ghazni) Medal, 1839, Jellalabad Medal, 1841-1842, Defence of Kelat-i-Ghilzie Medal 1842, Candahar, Cabul and Ghuznee Medal 1842-1843

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on February 7th 2002, last revised on November 19th 2004

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