The Second Anglo-Afghan War 1878-1880

A.) The Situation Preceding the War

Afghanistan continued to be of strategic importance for Britain, the foreign policy of which at that time has to be seen in the context of Anglo-Russian rivalry. In 1877 the Russian Army had invaded and defeated the Ottoman Empire; British diplomacy inflicted a humiliation on the Russians at the BERLIN CONGRESS of 1878. With the Russians having established their sovereignty in Central Asia (Bukhara Russian vassall since 1868, Khiva since 1873), Britain now wanted to establish its influence over Afghanistan.

B.) The Cource of Events

A small Russian mission was present in Kabul; the British demanded Emir SHER ALI to admit a British mission (force), which he stubbornly refused. The British threatened with war unless he accepted. The Russian force left Kabul, but the British invaded on Nov. 22nd 1878 with a force of 35,700 men. They fought their way through defended mountain passes; Emir Sher Ali fled and the British enthroned YAKUB KHAN, who signed a peace treaty (Jan. 1879). In this treaty, Afghanistan ceded the Khyber pass to Britain.
On September 2nd 1879 the British Residency at Kabul had been wiped out, murdered by the mob; only a few had been able to escape. British forces stationed at the Khyber Pass fought their way to Kabul in the course of September and early October, retaking the city. A Holy War (Jihad) was called for, and c. 100,000 Afghans rallied to the cause; the British troops found themselves trapped in Kabul. In August the British left Kabul and marched on Kandahar; the city was taken on Sept. 1st, in the final action of the war.
British-Indian forces, total strength 40,000, suffered c. 2500 casualties; Afghan losses (of c. 100,000 total force) are estimated at c.1500.

C.) Legacy

Actually no peace was signed; the British forces left Afghanistan in 1881. Amir ABDUR RAHMAN was pro-British; the Khyber Pass had been secured, the murdered Britons revenged. In 1890/1891 Britain would go on to annex what is today Pakistan's NORTHWEST FRONTIER PROVINCE, Afghan territory until then. In 1919 Britain would go on to fight a THIRD AFGHAN WAR.

Events Afghanistan 1800-1999, from Armed Conflict Events Data
Sgt. David MacAdie, The Second Afghan War 1878-1880, from Caithness Archive
DOCUMENTS Casualty List, 2nd Afghan War, from Family History of India Website
Victoria Cross by Campaign : Second Afghan War, 1878-1880, from Victoria Cross Reference
Print : the Afghan War, from Illustrated London News 1879, posted by British Library Board
From British Military Medals : Kabul to Kandahar Star, Afghanistan Medal 1878-1880

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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