Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Afghan War


The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is a landlocked country in south-central Asia. It is bordered by Pakistan in the south and east, Iran in the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the north, and China in the far northeast. In addition; India claims a border with Afghanistan at the Wakhan corridor as part of its claim on the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Kashmir currently controlled by Pakistan.

The territories now comprising Afghanistan have been an ancient focal point of the Silk Road and human migration. The land is at an important geostrategic location, connecting East, South, West and Central Asia, and has been home to various peoples through the ages. The region has been a target of various invaders since antiquity, including by Alexander the Great, the Mauryan Empire, Muslim armies, and Genghis Khan, and has served as a source from which many kingdoms, such as the Greco-Bactrians, Kushans, Samanids, Ghaznavids, Ghurids, Timurids, and many others have risen to form empires of their own.

The political history of Afghanistan begins in the 18th century with the rise of the Pashtun tribes (known as Afghans in Persian), when in 1709 the Hotaki dynasty established its rule in Kandahar and, more specifically, when Ahmad Shah Durrani created the Durrani Empire in 1747 which became the forerunner of modern Afghanistan. Its capital was shifted in 1776 from Kandahar to Kabul and most of its territories ceded to neighboring empires by 1893. In the late 19th century, Afghanistan became a buffer state in "The Great Game" between the British and Russian empires. On August 19, 1919, following the third Anglo-Afghan war, the country regained independence from the United Kingdom over its foreign affairs.

Since the late 1970s Afghanistan has experienced a continuous state of civil war punctuated by foreign occupations in the forms of the 1979 Soviet invasion and the October 2001 US-led invasion that overthrew the Taliban government. In December 2001, the United Nations Security Council authorized the creation of an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to help maintain security and assist the Karzai administration. The country is being rebuilt slowly with support from the international community and dealing with a strong Taliban insurgency.


The First Anglo–Afghan War lasted from 1839 to 1842. It was one of the first major conflicts during the Great Game, the 19th century competition for power and influence in Central Asia between the United Kingdom and Russia, and also marked one of the worst setbacks inflicted on British power in the region after the consolidation of India by the East India Company.


In the 1830s, the British were firmly entrenched in India but by 1837, the British feared a Russian invasion of India through the Khyber and Bolan Passes as the Russian Empire had expanded towards the British dominion of India. The British sent an envoy to Kabul to form an alliance with Afghanistan's emir, Dost Muhammad against Russia. The Emir was in favour of an alliance but wanted British help in recapturing Peshawar which the Sikh Empire had captured in 1834. The British refused to help. Dost Muhammad then started negotiating with the Russians who had also sent an envoy to Kabul. This led the Governor-General of India Lord Auckland to conclude that Dost Muhammad was anti-British. British fears of a Russian invasion of India took one step closer to becoming a reality when negotiations between the Afghans and Russians broke down in 1838. This led to Persian troops along with their Russian allies to attack the Afghan city of Herat in western Afghanistan in an attempt to annex it. Russia, wanting to increase its presence in South and Central Asia, had formed an alliance with Persia which had territorial disputes with Afghanistan as Herat had been part of the Persian empire and only in 1750 had it been taken over by Afghanistan. Lord Auckland's plan was to drive away the besiegers and install a ruler in Afghanistan who was pro-British in place of the current Afghan ruler. The British chose Shuja Shah Durrani to be the new leader of Afghanistan. To justify his plan, Lord Auckland issued the Simla Manifesto in October 1838, setting forth the necessary reasons for British intervention in Afghanistan. The manifesto stated that in order to ensure the welfare of India, the British must have a trustworthy ally on India's western frontier. The official British position that their troops were merely supporting Shah Shuja's small army in retaking what was once his throne was generally seen (at the time, as well as now) as pretext for incorporating Afghanistan into the British empire. Although the Simla Manifesto stated that British troops would be withdrawn as soon as Shuja was installed in Kabul, Shuja's rule depended entirely on British arms to suppress rebellion and on British funds to buy the support of tribal chiefs. The British denied that they were invading Afghanistan, instead claiming they were merely supporting its legitimate Shuja government "against foreign interference and factious opposition." However, with Persia ruled by a pro-Russian, it may well have been the case that Britain was trying to install a pro-British leader in Afghanistan to prevent Russia from becoming the dominant power and threatening the North-West Frontier.

Battle of Ghazni
An army of 21,000 British and Indian troops under the command of Sir John Keane (subsequently replaced by Sir Willoughby Cotton and then by William Elphinstone) set out from Punjab in December 1838. With them was William Hay Macnaghten, the former chief secretary of the Calcutta government, who had been selected as Britain's chief representative to Kabul. By late March 1839, the British forces had reached Quetta, crossed the Bolan Pass and begun their march to Kabul. They advanced through rough terrain, crossed deserts and 4,000-metre-high mountain passes, but made good progress and took Kandahar on April 25, 1839. On July 22, in a surprise attack, they captured the until-then impregnable fortress of Ghazni, which overlooks a plain leading eastward into the North West Frontier Province. An Afghan had betrayed his sovereign and the British troops managed to blow-up one city gate and marched into the city in a euphoric mood. In taking this fortress, they suffered 200 men killed and wounded, while the Afghans lost nearly 500 men. 1,600 Afghans were taken prisoner with an unknown number wounded. The fact that Ghazni was well-supplied eased the further advance considerably.
The City of Ghuznee

Following this, the British achieved a decisive victory over Dost Mohammad's troops, led by one of his sons. Dost Mohammad fled with his loyal followers across the passes to Bamian, and ultimately to Bukhara. In August 1839, after almost thirty years, Shuja was again enthroned in Kabul.

The army of the Indus entering Kandahar

The narrow Bolan pass on the road from Quetta to Kandahar by which the Army of the Indus marched into Afghanistan.

The British and Indian column storming the gates of Ghuznee.


The majority of the British troops returned to India (only 8,000 remained in Afghanistan), but it soon became clear that Shuja's rule could only be maintained with the presence of a greater number of British forces. The Afghans resented the British presence and the rule of Shah Shuja. As the occupation dragged on, William Hay Macnaghten allowed his soldiers to bring their families to Afghanistan in order to improve morale; this further infuriated the Afghans, as it appeared the British were setting up a permanent occupation. Dost Mohammad unsuccessfully attacked the British and their Afghan protégé, and subsequently surrendered and was exiled to India in late 1840.

By this time, the British had vacated the fortress of Bala Hissar and relocated to a cantonment built to the northeast of Kabul. The chosen location was indefensible, being low and swampy with hills on every side. To make matters worse, the cantonment was too large in relation to the number of troops camped in it and had a defensive perimeter almost two miles wide. In addition, the stores and supplies were in a separate fort, 300 yards from the main cantonment.

By October 1841, disaffected Afghan tribes were flocking to support Dost Mohammad's son, Mohammad Akbar Khan, in Bamian. In November 1841, a senior British officer, Sir Alexander 'Sekundar' Burnes, and his aides were killed by a mob in Kabul. The British forces took no action in response to the incident, which encouraged further revolt. The British situation soon deteriorated when Afghans stormed the poorly defended supply fort inside Kabul on November 9. In the following weeks, the British commanders tried to negotiate with Akbar Khan. Macnaghten secretly offered to make Akbar Afghanistan's vizier in exchange for allowing the British to stay, while simultaneously disbursing large sums of money to have him assassinated, proceedings that were reported to Akbar Khan. A meeting for direct negotiations between MacNaghten and Akbar was held near the cantonment on 23 December, but MacNaghten and the three officers accompanying him were seized and slain by Akbar Khan. Macnaghten's body was dragged through the streets of Kabul and displayed in the bazaar. Elphinstone had partly lost command of his troops already and his authority was badly damaged

The British colonies in India in the early 19th Century were held by the Honourable East India Company, a powerful trading corporation based in London, answerable to its shareholders and to the British Parliament.

In the first half of the century France as the British bogeyman gave way to Russia, leading finally to the Crimean War in 1854. In 1839 the obsession in British India was that the Russians, extending the Tsar’s empire east into Asia, would invade India through Afghanistan.

This widely held obsession led Lord Auckland, the British governor general in India, to enter into the First Afghan War, one of Britain’s most ill-advised and disastrous wars.

Until the First Afghan War the Sirkar (the Indian colloquial name for the East India Company) had an overwhelming reputation for efficiency and good luck. The British were considered to be unconquerable and omnipotent. The Afghan War severely undermined this view. The retreat from Kabul in January 1842 and the annihilation of Elphinstone’s Kabul garrison dealt a mortal blow to British prestige in the East only rivaled by the fall of Singapore 100 years later.

The causes of the disaster are easily stated: the difficulties of campaigning in Afghanistan’s inhospitable mountainous terrain with its extremes of weather, the turbulent politics of the country and its armed and refractory population and finally the failure of the British authorities to appoint senior officers capable of conducting the campaign competently and decisively.

The substantially Hindu East India Company army crossed the Indus with trepidation, fearing to lose caste by leaving Hindustan and appalled by the country they were entering. The troops died of heat, disease and lack of supplies on the desolate route to Kandahar, subject, in the mountain passes, to constant attack by the Afghan tribes. Once in Kabul the army was reduced to a perilously small force and left in the command of incompetents. As Sita Ram in his memoirs complained: “If only the army had been commanded by the memsahibs all might have been well."

The disaster of the First Afghan War was a substantial contributing factor to the outbreak of the Great Mutiny in the Bengal Army in 1857.

The successful defence of Jellalabad and the progress of the Army of Retribution in 1842 could do only a little in retrieving the loss of the East India Company’s reputation.

The Battle of Kabul and the retreat to Gandamak

Afghans attacking the retreating British and Indian army

The British colonies in India in the early 19th Century were held by the Honourable East India Company, a powerful trading corporation based in London, answerable to its shareholders and to the British Parliament.

In the first half of the century France as the British bogeyman gave way to Russia, leading finally to the Crimean War in 1854. In 1839 the obsession in British India was that the Russians, extending the Tsar’s empire east into Asia, would invade India through Afghanistan.

This widely held obsession led Lord Auckland, the British governor general in India, to enter into the First Afghan War, one of Britain’s most ill-advised and disastrous wars.

Until the First Afghan War the Sirkar (the Indian colloquial name for the East India Company) had an overwhelming reputation for efficiency and good luck. The British were considered to be unconquerable and omnipotent. The Afghan War severely undermined this view. The retreat from Kabul in January 1842 and the annihilation of Elphinstone’s Kabul garrison dealt a mortal blow to British prestige in the East only rivaled by the fall of Singapore 100 years later.

The causes of the disaster are easily stated: the difficulties of campaigning in Afghanistan’s inhospitable mountainous terrain with its extremes of weather, the turbulent politics of the country and its armed and refractory population and finally the failure of the British authorities to appoint senior officers capable of conducting the campaign competently and decisively.

The substantially Hindu East India Company army crossed the Indus with trepidation, fearing to lose caste by leaving Hindustan and appalled by the country they were entering. The troops died of heat, disease and lack of supplies on the desolate route to Kandahar, subject, in the mountain passes, to constant attack by the Afghan tribes. Once in Kabul the army was reduced to a perilously small force and left in the command of incompetents. As Sita Ram in his memoirs complained: “If only the army had been commanded by the memsahibs all might have been well."

The disaster of the First Afghan War was a substantial contributing factor to the outbreak of the Great Mutiny in the Bengal Army in 1857.

The successful defence of Jellalabad and the progress of the Army of Retribution in 1842 could do only a little in retrieving the loss of the East India Company’s reputation.


Following the British capture of Kandahar and Ghuznee Dost Mohammed, whose replacement on the throne in Kabul by Shah Shujah was the purpose of the British expedition into Afghanistan, despairing of the support of his army fled to the hills. On 7th August 1839 Shah Shujah and the British and Indian Army entered Kabul.

The British official controlling the expedition was Sir William Macnaghten, the Viceroy’s Envoy, acting with his staff of political officers.

At first all went well. British money and the powerful Anglo-Indian Army kept the Afghan tribes in controllable bounds, pacifying the Ameers with bribes and forays into the surrounding districts.

Afghan tribesmen waiting to attack the Kabul Brigade during the agonising retreat to India.

In November 1840 during a raid into Kohistan two squadrons of Bengal cavalry failed to follow their officers in a charge against a small force of Afghans led by Dost Mohammed himself. Soon afterwards, despairing of his life in the mountains, Dost Mohammed surrendered to Macnaghten and went into exile in India, escorted by a division of British and Indian troops no longer required in Afghanistan and accompanied by the commander in chief Sir Willoughby Cotton.

In December 1840 Shah Shujah and Macnaghten withdrew to Jellalabad for the ferocious Afghan winter, returning to Kabul in the spring of 1841.

In the assumption that the establishment of Shah Shujah as Ameer was complete, the British and Indian troops were required to move out of the Balla Hissar, a fortified palace of considerable strength outside Kabul, and build for themselves conventional cantonments. A further complete brigade of the force was withdrawn, leaving the remaining regiments to settle into garrison life as if in India, summoning families to join them, building a race course and disporting themselves under the increasingly menacing Afghan gaze.

There were plenty of signs of trouble. The Ghilzai tribes in the Khyber repeatedly attacked British supply columns from India. Tribal revolt made Northern Baluchistan virtually ungovernable. Shah Shujah’s writ did not run outside the main cities, particularly in the South Western areas around the Helmond River.

Sir William Cotton was replaced as commander in chief of the British and Indian forces by General Elphinstone, an elderly invalid now incapable of directing an army in the field, but with sufficient spirit to prevent any other officer from exercising proper command in his place.

Afghan tribesmen armed with jezails.

The fate of the British and Indian forces in Afghanistan in the winter of 1840 to 1841 provides a striking illustration of the collapse of morale and military efficiency where the officers in command are indecisive and wholly lacking in initiative and self-confidence. The only senior officer left in Afghanistan with any ability was Brigadier Nott, the garrison commander at Kandahar.

Crisis struck in October 1841. In that month Brigadier Sale took his brigade out of Kabul as part of the force reductions and began the march through the mountain passes to Peshawar and India. Throughout the journey his column was subjected to continuing attack by Ghilzai tribesmen and the armed retainers of the Kabul Ameers. Sale’s brigade, which included the 13th Foot, fought through to Gandamak, where a message was received summoning the force back to Kabul, Sale did not comply with the order and continued to Jellalabad.

In Kabul serious trouble had broken out. On 2nd November 1841 an Afghan mob stormed the house of Sir Alexander Burnes, one of the senior British political officers, and murdered him and several of his staff. It is the authoritative assessment that if the British had reacted with vigour and severity the Kabul rising could have been controlled. But such a reaction was beyond Elphinstone’s abilities. All he could do was refuse to give his deputy, Brigadier Shelton, the discretion to take such measures.

Until the end of the year the situation of the Kabul force deteriorated as the Afghans harried them and deprived them of supplies and pressed them more closely.

On 23rd December 1841 Macnaghten was lured to a meeting with several Afghan Ameers and murdered. While the Kabulis awaited a swift retribution the British and Indian regiments cowered fearful in their cantonments.

Attempts to clear the high ground that enabled the Afghans to dominate the cantonments failed miserably, because the troops were too cowed to be capable of aggressive action.

The beginning of the end came on 6th January 1842 when the British and Indian garrison, 4,500 soldiers, including 690 Europeans, and 12,000 wives, children and civilian servants, following a purported agreement with the Ameers guaranteeing safe conduct to India, marched out of the cantonments and began the terrible journey to the Khyber Pass and on to India. As part of the agreement with the Ameers all the guns had to be left to the Afghans except for one horse artillery battery and 3 mountain guns and a number of British officers and their families were required to surrender as hostages, taking them from the nightmare slaughter of the march into relative security.

In spite of the binding undertaking to protect the retreating army, the column was attacked from the moment it left the Kabul cantonments.

The army managed to march 6 miles on the first day. The night was spent without tents or cover, many troops and camp followers dying of cold.

The next day the march continued, Brigadier Shelton, after his ineffectiveness as Elphinstone’s deputy, showing his worth leading the counter attacks of the rearguard to cover the main body.

At Bootkhak the Kabul Ameer, Akbar Khan, arrived claiming he had been deputed to ensure the army completed its journey without further harassment. He insisted that the column halt and camp, extorting a large sum of money and insisting that further officers be given up as hostages. One of the conditions negotiated with the Ameers was that the British abandon Kandahar and Jellalabad. Akbar Khan required the hostages to ensure Brigadier Sale left Jellalabad and withdrew to India.

The next day found the force so debilitated by the freezing night that few of the soldiers were fit for duty. The column struggled into the narrow five mile long Khoord Cabul pass to be fired on for its whole length by the tribesmen posted on the heights on each side. The rearguard was found by the 44th Regiment who fought to keep the tribesmen at bay. 3,000 casualties were left in the gorge.

On 9th January 1842 Akbar Khan required further hostages in the form of the remaining married officers with their families. For the next two days the column pushed through the passes and fought off the incessant attacks of the tribesmen.

On the evening of 11th January 1842 Akbar Khan compelled General Elphinstone and Brigadier Shelton to surrender as hostages, leaving the command to Brigadier Anquetil. The troops reached the Jugdulluk crest to find the road blocked by a thorn abattis manned by Ghilzai tribesmen. A desperate attack was mounted, the horse artillery driving their remaining guns at the abattis, but few managed to pass this fatal obstruction.

The final stand took place at Gandamak on the morning of 13th January 1842 in the snow. 20 officers and 45 European soldiers, mostly of the 44th Foot, found themselves surrounded on a hillock. The Afghans attempted to persuade the soldiers that they intended them no harm. Then the sniping began followed a series of rushes. Captain Souter wrapped the colours of the regiment around his body and was dragged into captivity with two or three soldiers. The remainder were shot or cut down. Only 6 mounted officers escaped. Of these 5 were murdered along the road.

On the afternoon of 13th January 1842 the British troops in Jellalabad, watching for their comrades of the Kabul garrison, saw a single figure ride up to the town walls. It was Dr Brydon, the sole survivor of the column.

Dr Brydon arrives at Jellalabad, the last survivor of anarmy of 16,500 soldiers and civilians.

Casualties: First Afghan War

The entire force of 690 British soldiers, 2,840 Indian soldiers and 12,000 followers were killed or in a few cases taken prisoner. The 44th Foot lost 22 officers and 645 soldiers, mostly killed. Afghan casualties, largely Ghilzai tribesmen, are unknown.


The massacre of this substantial British and Indian force caused a profound shock throughout the British Empire. Lord Auckland, the Viceroy of India, is said to have suffered a stroke on hearing the news. Brigadier Sale and his troops in Jellalabad for a time contemplated retreating to India, but more resolute councils prevailed, particularly from Captains Broadfoot and Havelock, and the garrison hung on to act as the springboard for the entry of the “Army of Retribution” into Afghanistan the next year.

Regimental anecdotes and traditions:

The First Afghan War provided the clear lesson to the British authorities that while it may be relatively straightforward to invade Afghanistan it is wholly impracticable to occupy the country or attempt to impose a government not welcomed by the inhabitants. The only result will be failure and great expense in treasure and lives.

The British Army learnt a number of lessons from this sorry episode. One was that the political officers must not be permitted to predominate over military judgments.

The War provides a fascinating illustration of how the character and determination of its leaders can be decisive in determining the morale and success of a military expedition.

It is extraordinary that officers, particularly senior officers like Elphinstone and Shelton, felt able to surrender themselves as hostages, thereby ensuring their survival, while their soldiers struggled on to be massacred by the Afghans.


Battle of Ghazni

The Battle of Ghuznee

The Battle of Kabul and the retreat to Gandamak

Afghan War


Second Anglo-Afghan War

The Second Anglo-Afghan War refers to a war between the United Kingdom and Afghanistan that lasted from 1878 to 1880.

After tension between Russia and Britain in Europe ended with the June 1878 Congress of Berlin, Russia turned its attention to Central Asia. That same summer, Russia sent an uninvited diplomatic mission to Kabul. Sher Ali Khan, the Amir of Afghanistan, tried unsuccessfully to keep them out. Russian envoys arrived in Kabul on 22 July, 1878, and on 14 August, the British demanded that Sher Ali accept a British mission too.

92nd Highlander of Kandahar.

The Amir not only refused to receive a British mission under Neville Bowles Chamberlain, but threatened to stop it if it were dispatched. Lord Lytton, the viceroy, ordered a diplomatic mission to set out for Kabul in September 1878 but the mission was turned back as it approached the eastern entrance of the Khyber Pass, triggering the Second Anglo-Afghan War. A British force of about 40,000 fighting men was distributed into military columns which penetrated Afghanistan at three different points. An alarmed Sher Ali attempted to appeal in person to the Russian Tsar for assistance, but unable to do so, he returned to Mazari Sharif, where he died on 21 February 1879.

Group. The Amir Yakub Khan, General Daod Shah, Habeebula Moustafi, with Major Cavagnari C.S.I. & Mr Jenkyns [Gandamak].

Photograph, a formal seated portrait of five figures (Major Cavagnari second from left, Amir Yakub Khan in the centre, the tall Daoud Shah next to the Amir, and Jenkyns and Habibullah Moustafi at extreme left and right), taken by John Burke at Gandmak in Afghanistan in May 1879. Burke accompanied British forces into Afghanistan in 1878 and covered the events of the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-80), becoming the first significant photographer of the country and its people in the process. The British, having defeated the Amir Sher Ali's forces, wintered in Jalalabad, waiting for the new Amir Yakub Khan to accept their terms and conditions. One of the key figures in the negotiations was Pierre Louis Napoleon Cavagnari (1841-1879). A half-Irish, half-Italian aristocrat, descended from the royal family of Parma on his father's side, he had been brought up in England, with schooling at Addiscombe. He served with the East India Army in the 1st Bengal Fusiliers and then transferred into political service, becoming Deputy Commisssioner at Peshawar, and was appointed as envoy by the Viceroy Lord Lytton in the 1878 mission to Kabul which the Afghans refused to let proceed. This refusal was one of a series of events which led to the Second Afghan War.

In the photograph, the 34 year old Yakub is wearing the white clothes he favoured. The six foot tall Daoud Shah, from the Ghilzai tribe, was his commander-in-chief. He had served under the former Amir Sher Ali as well and was known as an able man. Habibullah Khan had been a trusted confidant of Sher Ali and was now the moustafi or prime minister of Yakub Khan.

In May 1879, Yakub Khan travelled to Gandamak, a village just outside Jalalabad and entered into negotiations with Cavagnari as a result of which the Treaty of Gandamak was signed whereby the Amir ceded territories to the British and accepted a British envoy in Kabul. Cavagnari took up the post of British Resident in Kabul in July 1879. He was known to be reckless and arrogant rather than discreet and his role as envoy was viewed as injudicious even by some of the British. The situation in Kabul was tense and eventually some Afghan troops who had not been paid by the Amir rebelled and attackled the Residency, killing Cavagnari and his mission in September 1879. The war was far from over despite the treaty and British troops were recalled over the mountains to occupy Kabul, secure it and launch punitive action against the Afghans. Yakub Khan abdicated, taking refuge in the British camp and was subsequently sent to India in December.
Date 1879

With British forces occupying much of the country, Sher Ali's son and successor, Mohammad Yaqub Khan, signed the Treaty of Gandamak in May 1879 to prevent a British invasion of the rest of the country. According to this agreement and in return for an annual subsidy and vague assurances of assistance in case of foreign aggression, Yaqub relinquished control of Afghan foreign affairs to Britain. British representatives were installed in Kabul and other locations, British control was extended to the Khyber and Michni passes, and Afghanistan ceded various frontier areas and Quetta to Britain. The British Army then withdrew.

However, on 3 September, 1879 an uprising in Kabul led to the slaughter of Sir Pierre Cavagnari, his guards, and staff - provoking the next phase of the Second Afghan War.

Major General Sir Frederick Roberts led the Kabul Field Force over the Shutargardan Pass into central Afghanistan, defeated the Afghan Army at Char Asiab on 6 October, 1879, and occupied Kabul. Ghazi Mohammad Jan Khan Wardak staged an uprising and attacked British forces near Kabul in the Siege of the Sherpur Cantonment in December 1879, but his defeat there resulted in the collapse of this rebellion. Yaqub Khan, suspected of complicity in the massacre of Cavagnari and his staff, was obliged to abdicate. The British considered a number of possible political settlements, including partitioning Afghanistan between multiple rulers or placing Yaqub's brother Ayub Khan on the throne, but ultimately decided to install his cousin Abdur Rahman Khan as emir instead.

Photo of 45th Rattray's Sikhs with prisoners from the second Second Anglo-Afghan War

The three Afghan prisoners captured in the advance through the Khurd Khyber are sitting in the centre of the photograph, surrounded by Sikh guards. The 45th Sikh Regiment was raised in 1856 by Captain Thomas Rattray, and was popularly known as Rattray’s Sikhs. It had earlier earned glory with its courage and loyalty to the British at the relief of Lucknow during the Indian Uprising of 1857. The Regiment served in the Fourth Infantry Brigade, part of the Peshawar Valley Field Force, during the Second Afghan War. The prisoners were lucky to have survived because in the harsh conditions and terrain of the Afghan Wars no quarter was given and prisoners taken, on both sides.

Ayub Khan, who had been serving as governor of Herat, rose in revolt, defeated a British detachment at the Battle of Maiwand in July 1880 and besieged Kandahar. Roberts then led the main British force from Kabul and decisively defeated Ayub Khan in September at the Battle of Kandahar, bringing his rebellion to an end. Abdur Rahman had confirmed the Treaty of Gandamak, leaving the British in control of the territories ceded by Yaqub Khan and ensuring British control of Afghanistan's foreign policy in exchange for protection and a subsidy.

Abandoning the provocative policy of maintaining a British resident in Kabul, but having achieved all their other objectives, the British withdrew.

The interior of Ali Masjid, following the battle. Date 21 November 1878, Location Western end of the Khyber Pass, Afghanistan, Result British victory; Afghan retreat.

The aftermath of the Battle of Ali Masjid 1878

British troops camped on the Shagai Ridge
The historic Khyber Pass

References :

Battle of Ali Masjid

The Second Anglo-Afghan War 1878-1880 and the March from Kabul to Kandahar

Afghanistan-Pakistan boundary is not a border.


Third Anglo-Afghan War

The Third Anglo-Afghan War (also referred to as the Third Afghan War) began on 6 May 1919 and ended with an armistice on 8 August 1919. While it was essentially a minor tactical victory for the British in so much as they were able to repel the regular Afghan forces, in many ways it was a strategic victory for the Afghans. For the British, the Durand Line was reaffirmed as the political boundary between Afghanistan and British India and the Afghans agreed not to foment trouble on the British side. The Afghans won the right to conduct their own foreign affairs as a fully independent state.

The root cause of the Third Afghan War lies many years before the actual fighting commenced. For the British in India, Afghanistan was long seen as a potential source of threat. Not only were the Afghans themselves a threat, but for a long time the British worried about Russian intentions in the region, concerned that a possible invasion of India could be launched by Tsarist forces through Afghanistan. This period became known as the Great Game. In an effort to negate this threat, the British made numerous attempts at imposing their will upon Kabul, and over the course of the Nineteenth century fought two very bloody and costly wars: the First Anglo-Afghan War (1838–1842) and the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–1880).[5]

2nd/5th Royal Gurkha Rifles, North-West Frontier 1923

The end of the Second Afghan War in 1880 marked the beginning of almost forty years of reasonably good relations between Britain and Afghanistan under the leadership of Abdur Rahman Khan and Habibullah Khan, during which time the British attempted to manage Afghan foreign policy through the payment of a large subsidy.Ostensibly, the country remained independent, however, under the Treaty of Gandamak (1879) it was accepted that in regards to external matters it would "have no windows looking on the outside world, except towards India".

The death in 1901 of Emir Abdur Rahman Khan led indirectly to the war that began eighteen years later. His successor, Habibullah, was an unreliable and unstable leader who alternately sided with Britain and Russia according to whoever paid the highest price.[7] Despite feeling considerable resentment over not being consulted over the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 (Convention of St. Petersburg), Afghanistan remained neutral during the First World War (1914–1918), resisting considerable pressure from the Ottoman Empire when it entered the conflict on the side of Imperial Germany and the Sultan (the titular leader of Islam) called for a jihad against the Allies.

Third Anglo-Afghan War



Khyber Pass

"Khyber is a Hebrew word meaning a fort"

The Khyber Pass is a 53-kilometer (33-miles) passage through the Hindu Kush mountain range. It connects the northern frontier of Pakistan with Afghanistan. At its narrowest point, the pass is only 3 meters wide. On the north side of the Khyber Pass rise the towering, snow-covered mountains of the Hindu Kush. The Khyber Pass is one of the most famous mountain passes in the World. It is one of the most important passes between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is the best land route between India and Pakistan and has had a long and often violent history. Conquering armies have used the Khyber as an entry point for their invasions. It was also been a major trade route for centuries.
Khyber Pass, mountain pass in western Asia, the most important pass connecting Afghanistan and Pakistan, controlled by Pakistan. The Khyber Pass winds northwest through the Sefid Koh Range near Peshawar, Pakistan to Kabul, Afghanistan, varying in width from 3 to 137 m. The mountains on either side can be climbed only in a few places. The pass is walled by precipitous cliffs that vary in height from about 180 to 300 m. The pass reaches its highest elevation at the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The history of the Khyber Pass as a strategic gateway dates from 326 B.C., when Alexander the Great and his army marched through the Khyber to reach the plains of India. From their, he sailed down Indus River and led his army across the desert of Gedrosia. In the A.D. 900s, Persian, Mongol, and Tartar armies forced their way through the Khyber, bringing Islam to India. Centuries later, India became part of the British Empire, and British troops defended the Khyber Pass from the British Indian side. During the Afghan Wars the pass was the scene of numerous skirmishes between Anglo-Indian soldiers and native Afghans. Particularly well known is the battle of January 1842, in which about 16,000 British and Indian troops were killed. The British constructed a road through the pass in 1879 and converted it into a highway during the 1920s. A railroad was also built here in the 1920s.

Khyber Pass

The Khyber, in its chequered history, has seen countless invasions. It witnessed the march of Aryans and victorious advance of Persian and Greek armies. It also saw the Scythians, White Huns, Seljuks, Tartars, Mongols, Sassanians, Turks, Mughals and Durranis making successive inroads into the territories beyond Peshawar Valley and Indus. The very sight of the Khyber reminds one of the conquerors who forced their way through its dangerous defiles. It is this Pass through which the subcontinent was invaded time and again by conquerors like Timur, Babar, Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali. Again, it was through this Pass that the Russian invasion of the subcontinent was feared by the British in the 19th century. The story of Khyber Pass is composed of such colour and romance, such tragedy and glory that fact really looks stranger than fiction in this case. The Khyber Pass has been a silent witness to countless great events in the history of mankind. As one drives through the Pass at a leisurely pace, imagination unfolds pages of history.

The Aryans descending upon the fertile northern plains in 1500 BC subjugating the indigenous Dravidian population and settling down to open a glorious chapter in history of civilization. The Persian hordes under Darius (6 century B.C.) crossing into the Punjab to annex yet another province to the Archaemenian Empire. The armies of Alexander the Great (326 BC) marching through the rugged pass to fulfill the wishes of a young, ambitious conqueror. The terror of Ghenghis Khan enwraping the majestic hills and turning back towards the trophies of ancient Persia. The White house bringing fire and destruction in their wake, the Scythians and the Parthians, the Mughals and the Afghans, conquerors all, crossing over to leave their impact and add more chapters to the diverse history of this subcontinent.

Khyber chiefs

The Muslim armies first passed through in 997 AD under the command of Subuktagin and later his celebrated son, Mahmud of Ghaznawi, marched through with his army as many as seventeen times between 1001-1030 AD. Some of his campaigns were directed through the Khyber Pass. Shahabuddin Muhammad Ghaur, a renowned ruler of Ghauri dynasty, crossed the Khyber Pass in 1175 AD to consolidate the gains of the Muslims in India. He used Khyber Pass again in 1193 to measure strength with Pirthvi Raj Chouhan and show his mettle on the field of Tarain. This battle helped Muslims carve out a Muslim Kingdom in India. In 1398 AD Amir Timur, the firebrand from Central Asia, invaded India through the Khyber Pass and his descendant Zahiruddin Babur made use of this pass first in 1505 and then in 1526 to establish a mighty Mughal empire.In 1672, it was the Khyber Pass where the Afridis under the able leadership of Ajmal Khan defeated Muhammad Amin Khan's army and besides inflicting losses, both in men and material, on the enemy, the Afridis captured about 10,000 Mughal soldiers. Nadir Shah Afshar of Iran used the Khyber Valley in 1739 AD to attach Delhi. The famous Afghan King, Ahmad Shah Abdali, crossed the Khyber Pass in 1761 AD and crushed the Marattha confederacy on the field of Panipat (India). The Khyber Valley saw a great deal of fighting between 1839-1919. During the First Afghan War (1839-42) General Pollock used the Khyber Pass on his way to Afghanistan to retrieve the British honour. Again, in 1878, the British forces marched through the Khyber Pass to launch an offensive against the Afghans in the Second Afghan War (1878-79). In 1897 a revolt flared up on the frontier region and the valleys of Khyber started vibrating with the echoes of war.

The year 1919 again saw the movement of British troops through the Khyber during the Third Afghan War. The valiant sons of Khyber converged upon Peshawar in 1930 to give vent to their feelings of resentment against the indiscriminate firing of the British troops on freedom lovers in the famous Qissa Khawani Bazaar. The chapter of fighting in Khyber, however, came to a close with the dawn of Independence in August, 1957. Since the establishment of Pakistan, the situation has changed altogether and the sentinels of Khyber are now interested in the welfare of their country-Pakistan - with which is linked their own future. But one thing remains unchanged. The invasion of the Khyber Pass is still on. Conquerors no longer traverse it, tourist do. The Khyber Pass is attracting thousands of tourists every year, besides a large number of foreign dignitaries, including Heads of States and Government leaders.

Warning at Peshawar

For hundreds of years, great camel caravans traveled through the Khyber Pass, bringing goods to trade. These ancient merchants and traders brought luxurious silks and fine porcelain objects from China to the Middle East. Often, they stopped at Herat, the great oasis in western Afghanistan. The traders traveled in caravans as a protection against the hazards of travel. Even so, they were often robbed by local tribesmen when traveling through the Khyber Pass.

The Khyber Pass today........

Today, two highways thread their way through the Khyber Pass-one for motor traffic, and one for the traditional caravans. A railway line also travels to the head of the pass. Recently, the Khyber Pass has been used to transport refugees from the Afghan civil war into Pakistan, and transport arms into Afghanistan. The highway over the Khyber Pass links Kabul to Peshawar. Villages lie on each side of the Khyber Pass. The people of the Khyber Pass are mainly Pashtuns.


Afghanistan Civil War

Afghanistan War, 1978–92, conflict between anti-Communist Muslim Afghan guerrillas (mujahidin) and Afghan government and Soviet forces. The conflict had its origins in the 1978 coup that overthrew Afghan president Sardar Muhammad Daud Khan, who had come to power by ousting the king in 1973. The president was assassinated and a pro-Soviet Communist government under Noor Mohammed Taraki was established. In 1979 another coup, which brought Hafizullah Amin to power, provoked an invasion (Dec., 1979) by Soviet forces and the installation of Babrak Karmal as president.

The Soviet invasion, which sparked Afghan resistance, intially involved an estimated 30,000 troops, a force that ultimately grew to 100,000. The mujahidin were supported by aid from the United States, China, and Saudi Arabia, channeled through Pakistan, and from Iran. Although the USSR had superior weapons and complete air control, the rebels successfully eluded them. The conflict largely settled into a stalemate, with Soviet and government forces controlling the urban areas, and the Afghan guerrillas operating fairly freely in mountainous rural regions. As the war progressed, the rebels improved their organization and tactics and began using imported and captured weapons, including U.S. antiaircraft missiles, to neutralize the technological advantages of the USSR.

In 1986, Karmal resigned and Mohammad Najibullah became head of a collective leadership. In Feb., 1988, President Mikhail Gorbachev announced the withdrawal of USSR troops, which was completed one year later. Soviet citizens had become increasingly discontented with the war, which dragged on without success but with continuing casualties. In the spring of 1992, Najibullah's government collapsed and, after 14 years of rule by the People's Democratic party, Kabul fell to a coalition of mujahidin under the military leadership of Ahmed Shah Massoud.

View of Kabul as documented by Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) during civil war, which shows destruction caused by in-fighting of fundamentalist groups following the fall of the pro-Russian government of Dr. Najibullah in 1992.

The war left Afghanistan with severe political, economic, and ecological problems. More than 1 million Afghans died in the war and 5 million became refugees in neighboring countries. In addition, 15,000 Soviet soldiers were killed and 37,000 wounded. Economic production was drastically curtailed, and much of the land laid waste. At the end of the war more than 5 million mines saturated approximately 2% of the country, where they will pose a threat to human and animal life well into the 21st cent. The disparate guerrilla forces that had triumphed proved unable to unite, and Afghanistan became divided into spheres of control. These political divisions set the stage for the rise of the Taliban later in the decade.


Soviet - Afghan War

The Soviet war in Afghanistan was a ten-year conflict involving the Soviet Union, supporting the Marxist government of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan at their own request against the Mujahideen Resistance. The mujahideen found other support from a variety of sources including the United States, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt and other Muslim nations through the context of the Cold War.

The initial Soviet deployment of the 40th Army in Afghanistan began on December 24, 1979 under Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev The final troop withdrawal started on May 15, 1988, and ended on February 15, 1989 under the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Due to the interminable nature of the war and the damage it is perceived to have caused the USSR's international standing and military morale, the conflict in Afghanistan has sometimes been referred to as the Soviet Union's Vietnam War.

Soviet-Afghan relations

The USSR had provided aid to Afghanistan as early as 1919, shortly after the Russian Revolution and when the regime was facing the Russian Civil War. Provisions were given in the form of small arms, ammunition, a few aircraft, and (according to debated Soviet sources) a million gold rubles to support the resistance during the Third Anglo-Afghan War. In 1942, the USSR again moved to strengthen the Afghan army, by providing small arms and aircraft, and establishing training centres in Tashkent (Uzbek Soviet). Soviet-Afghan military cooperation began on a regular basis in 1956, and further agreements were made in the 1970s, which saw the USSR send advisers and specialists. A final pre-war treaty, signed in December 1978, allowed the PDPA to call upon the Soviet Union for military support.

Initiation of the insurgency

In June 1975, militants from the Jamiat Islami party attempted to overthrow the government. They started their rebellion in the Panjshir valley (a part of the greater Parwan province), in the present day Panjshir province, some 100 kilometers north of Kabul, and in a number of other provinces of the country. However, government forces easily defeated the insurgency and a sizable portion of the insurgents sought refuge in Pakistan where they enjoyed the support of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's government, which had been alarmed by Daoud's revival of the Pashtunistan issue.

In 1978 the Taraki government initiated a series of reforms, including a radical modernization of the traditional Islamic civil and especially marriage law, aimed at "uprooting feudalism" in Afghan society. The government brooked no opposition to the reforms and responded with violence to unrest. Between April 1978 and the Soviet invasion of December 1979, thousands of prisoners, perhaps as many as 27,000, were executed at the notorious Pul-e-Charkhi prison, including many village mullahs and headmen.Other members of the traditional elite, the religious establishment and intelligentsia fled the country.

Large parts of the country went into open rebellion. The Parcham Government claimed that 11,000 were executed during the Amin/Taraki period in response to the revolts. The revolt began in October among the Nuristani tribes of the Kunar Valley in the northeastern part of the country near the border with Pakistan, and rapidly spread among the other ethnic groups. By the spring of 1979, 24 of the 28 provinces had suffered outbreaks of violence. The rebellion began to take hold in the cities: in March 1979 in Herat, rebels led by Ismail Khan revolted. Between 3000 and 5000 people were killed and wounded during the Herat revolt. Some 100 Soviet citizens and their families were killed.

Despite these drastic measures, by the end of 1980, out of the 80,000 soldiers strong Afghan Army, more than half had either deserted or joined the rebels.

1979: Soviet deployment

The Afghan government, having secured a treaty in December 1978 that allowed them to call on Soviet forces, repeatedly requested the introduction of troops in Afghanistan in the spring and summer of 1979. They requested Soviet troops to provide security and to assist in the fight against the mujahideen rebels. On April 14, 1979, the Afghan government requested that the USSR send 15 to 20 helicopters with their crews to Afghanistan, and on June 16, the Soviet government responded and sent a detachment of tanks, BMPs, and crews to guard the government in Kabul and to secure the Bagram and Shindand airfields. In response to this request, an airborne battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel A. Lomakin, arrived at the Bagram Air Base on July 7. They arrived without their combat gear, disguised as technical specialists. They were the personal bodyguards for President Taraki. The paratroopers were directly subordinate to the senior Soviet military advisor and did not interfere in Afghan politics.

The headquarters of the Soviet 40th Army in Kabul, 1987. Before the Soviet intervention, the building was Tajbeg Palace, where Hafizullah Amin was killed.

After a month, the Afghan requests were no longer for individual crews and subunits, but for regiments and larger units. In July, the Afghan government requested that two motorized rifle divisions be sent to Afghanistan. The following day, they requested an airborne division in addition to the earlier requests. They repeated these requests and variants to these requests over the following months right up to December 1979. However, the Soviet government was in no hurry to grant them.

The anti-communist rebels garnered support from the United States. As stated by the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and current US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, in his memoirs From the Shadows, the US intelligence services began to provide financial aid the rebel factions in Afghanistan six months before the Soviet deployment. On July 3, 1979, US President Jimmy Carter signed an executive order authorizing the CIA to conduct covert propaganda operations against the communist regime.

Carter's national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, allegedly stated in an interview that he claimed was illegitimate and fabricated that the U.S. effort to aid the mujahideen was preceded by an effort to draw the Soviets into a costly and presumably distracting Vietnam War-like conflict. In a 1998 interview[25] with the French news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, Brzezinski recalled: "We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would... That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Soviets into the Afghan trap... The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, "We now have the opportunity of giving to the Soviet Union its Vietnam War." He mantains that this interview is simply untrue and that there were no arms sent to the Afghan insurgents until the week after the Soviet invasion. He suggested that the latter claim is easily verifiable, saying "the records are open!" His claim is supported by the fact that he was never recorded or video-taped making any of these alleged statements by the interviewer.

On July 3, 1979, Carter signed a presidential finding authorizing funding for anticommunist guerrillas in Afghanistan[29] as a part of the Central Intelligence Agency program called Operation Cyclone, led by their elite Special Activities Division, which would later include the massive arming of Afghanistan's mujahideen.[

Based on information from the KGB, Soviet leaders felt that Amin destabilized the situation in Afghanistan. Following Amin's initial coup against and killing of President Taraki, the KGB station in Kabul warned that his leadership would lead to "harsh repressions, and as a result, the activation and consolidation of the opposition."

The Soviets established a special commission on Afghanistan, of KGB chairman Yuri Andropov, Boris Ponomarev from the Central Committee and Dmitry Ustinov, the Minister of Defense. In late April 1978, they reported that Amin was purging his opponents, including Soviet loyalists; his loyalty to Moscow was in question; and that he was seeking diplomatic links with Pakistan and possibly the People's Republic of China. Of specific concern were Amin's secret meetings with the US chargé d'affaires J. Bruce Amstutz, which, while never amounting to any agreement between Amin and the United States, sowed suspicion in the Kremlin.

Information obtained by the KGB from its agents in Kabul provided the last arguments to eliminate Amin. Supposedly, two of Amin's guards killed the former president Nur Muhammad Taraki with a pillow, and Amin was suspected to be a CIA agent. The latter, however, is still disputed: Amin repeatedly demonstrated official friendliness to the Soviet Union. Soviet General Vasily Zaplatin, a political advisor at that time, claimed that four of President Taraki's ministers were responsible for the destabilization. However, Zaplatin failed to emphasize this enough.

Also during the 1970s, the Soviet Union reached the peak of its political influence in comparison to the U.S. as the SALT I treaty was created to cooperate in matters of nuclear weapons and technology between the two nations. A second round of talks between communist leader Brezhnev and president Carter yielded the SALT II treaty in June 1979, which the U.S. Senate though, failed to ratify. This process would eventually culminate and lead up to the buildup and invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 to preserve, stabilize and militarily intervene on behalf of the communist regime there.

1979: Soviet invasion

The Soviet invasionOn October 31, 1979 Soviet informants to the Afghan Armed Forces who were under orders from the inner circle of advisors under Soviet leader Brezhnev, relayed information for them to undergo maintenance cycles for their tanks and other crucial equipment. Meanwhile, telecommunications links to areas outside of Kabul were severed, isolating the capital. With a deteriorating security situation, large numbers of Soviet airborne forces joined stationed ground troops and began to land in Kabul on December 25. Simultaneously, Amin moved the offices of the president to the Tajbeg Palace, believing this location to be more secure from possible threats. According to Colonel General Tukharinov and Merimsky, Amin was fully informed of the military movements, having requested Soviet military assistance to northern Afghanistan on December 17. His brother and General Dmitry Chiangov met with the commander of the 40th Army before Soviet troops entered the country, to work out initial routes and locations for Soviet troops.

On December 27, 1979, 700 Soviet troops dressed in Afghan uniforms, including KGB and GRU special force officers from the Alpha Group and Zenith Group, occupied major governmental, military and media buildings in Kabul, including their primary target - the Tajbeg Presidential Palace.

The Soviet invasion.

That operation began at 19:00 hr., when the Soviet Zenith Group destroyed Kabul's communications hub, paralyzing Afghan military command. At 19:15, the assault on Tajbeg Palace began; as planned, president Hafizullah Amin was killed. Simultaneously, other objectives were occupied (e.g. the Ministry of Interior at 19:15). The operation was fully complete by the morning of December 28, 1979.

December 1979-February 1980: Occupation
The first phase began with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and their first battles with various opposition groups.Soviet troops entered Afghanistan along two ground routes and one air corridor, quickly taking control of the major urban centers, military bases and strategic installations. However, the presence of Soviet troops did not have the desired effect of pacifying the country. On the contrary, it exacerbated a nationalistic feeling, causing the rebellion to spread further. Babrak Karmal, Afghanistan's new president, charged the Soviets with causing an increase in the unrest, and demanded that the 40th Army step in and quell the rebellion, as his own army had proved untrustworthy.Thus, Soviet troops found themselves drawn into fighting against urban uprisings, tribal armies (called lashkar), and sometimes against mutinying Afghan Army units. These forces mostly fought in the open, and Soviet airpower and artillery made short work of them.

March 1980-April 1985: Soviet offensives

The war now developed into a new pattern: the Soviets occupied the cities and main axis of communication, while the mujahideen, divided into small groups, waged a guerrilla war. Almost 80 percent of the country escaped government control. Soviet troops were deployed in strategic areas in the northeast, especially along the road from Termez to Kabul. In the west, a strong Soviet presence was maintained to counter Iranian influence. Incidentally, special Soviet units would have also performed secret attacks on Iranian territory to destroy suspected mujahideen bases, and their helicopters then got engaged in shootings with Iranian jets . Conversely, some regions such as Nuristan, in the northeast, and Hazarajat, in the central mountains of Afghanistan, were virtually untouched by the fighting, and lived in almost complete independence.

Mujahideen in Kunar, Afghanistan  preparing to launch a mortar attack.

Periodically the Soviet Army undertook multi-divisional offensives into mujahideen-controlled areas. Between 1980 and 1985, nine offensives were launched into the strategically important Panjshir Valley, but government control of the area did not improve. Heavy fighting also occurred in the provinces neighbouring Pakistan, where cities and government outposts were constantly under siege by the mujahideen. Massive Soviet operations would regularly break these sieges, but the mujahideen would return as soon as the coast was clear. In the west and south, fighting was more sporadic, except in the cities of Herat and Kandahar, that were always partly controlled by the resistance.

On his arrival in power in March 1985, the new Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev expressed his impatience with the Afghan conflict. He demanded that a solution be found before a one-year deadline. As a result, the size of the LCOSF (Limited Contingent of Soviet Forces) was increased to 108,800 and fighting increased throughout the country, making 1985 the bloodiest year of the war. However, despite suffering heavily, the mujahideen were able to remain in the field and continue resisting the Soviets.

Mujahideen with two captured artillery field guns in Jaji Maydan, 1984

1980s: Insurrection

In the mid-1980s, the Afghan resistance movement, assisted by the United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, the People's Republic of China and others, contributed to Moscow's high military costs and strained international relations. The US viewed the conflict in Afghanistan as an integral Cold War struggle, and the CIA provided assistance to anti-Soviet forces through the Pakistani intelligence services, in a program called Operation Cyclone.

A Soviet Spetsnaz (special operations) group prepares for a mission in Afghanistan, 1988.

A similar movement occurred in other Muslim countries, bringing contingents of so-called Afghan Arabs, foreign fighters who wished to wage jihad against the atheist communists. Notable among them was a young Saudi named Osama bin Laden, whose Arab group eventually evolved into al-Qaeda.

In the course of the guerrilla war, leadership came to be distinctively associated with the title of "commander". It applied to independent leaders, eschewing identification with elaborate military bureaucracy associated with such ranks as general. As the war produced leaders of reputation, "commander" was conferred on leaders of fighting units of all sizes, signifying pride in independence, self-sufficiency, and distinct ties to local communities. The title epitomized Afghan pride in their struggle against a powerful foe. Segmentation of power and religious leadership were the two values evoked by nomenclature generated in the war. Neither had been favored in the ideology of the former Afghan state.

Afghanistan's resistance movement was born in chaos, spread and triumphed chaotically, and did not find a way to govern differently. Virtually all of its war was waged locally by regional warlords. As warfare became more sophisticated, outside support and regional coordination grew. Even so, the basic units of mujahideen organization and action continued to reflect the highly segmented nature of Afghan society.

Olivier Roy estimates that after four years of war, there were at least 4,000 bases from which mujahideen units operated. Most of these were affiliated with the seven expatriate parties headquartered in Pakistan, which served as sources of supply and varying degrees of supervision. Significant commanders typically led 300 or more men, controlled several bases and dominated a district or a sub-division of a province. Hierarchies of organization above the bases were attempted. Their operations varied greatly in scope, the most ambitious being achieved by Ahmad Shah Massoud of the Panjshir valley north of Kabul. He led at least 10,000 trained troops at the end of the Soviet war and had expanded his political control of Tajik-dominated areas to Afghanistan's northeastern provinces under the Supervisory Council of the North.

Three mujahideen in Asmar, 1985.

Roy also describes regional, ethnic and sectarian variations in mujahideen organization. In the Pashtun areas of the east, south and southwest, tribal structure, with its many rival sub-divisions, provided the basis for military organization and leadership. Mobilization could be readily linked to traditional fighting allegiances of the tribal lashkar (fighting force). In favorable circumstances such formations could quickly reach more than 10,000, as happened when large Soviet assaults were launched in the eastern provinces, or when the mujahideen besieged towns, such as Khost in Paktia province in July 1983. But in campaigns of the latter type the traditional explosions of manpower—customarily common immediately after the completion of harvest—proved obsolete when confronted by well dug-in defenders with modern weapons. Lashkar durability was notoriously short; few sieges succeeded.

Foreign involvement and aid to the mujahideen

The Afghans were supported by a number of other countries, with the US and Saudi Arabia offering the greatest financial support. However, the Afghans were also aided by others: the United Kingdom, Egypt, China, Iran, and Pakistan. Ground support, for political reasons, was limited to regional countries.

The United States began training insurgents in, and directing propaganda broadcasts into Afghanistan from Pakistan in 1978. Then, in early 1979, U.S. foreign service officers began meeting insurgent leaders to determine their needs. According to the then US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, CIA financial aid to the insurgents within Afghanistan was approved in July 1979, six months before the Soviet Invasion, though after the Soviets were already covertly engaged there. Arms were sent after the formal invasion.
An Afghan mujahideen fighter demonstrates the use of a hand-held SA-7 surface-to-air missile.

United States President Jimmy Carter insisted that what he termed "Soviet aggression" could not be viewed as an isolated event of limited geographical importance but had to be contested as a potential threat to US influence in the Persian Gulf region. The US was also worried about the USSR gaining access to the Indian Ocean by coming to an arrangement with Pakistan.

After the Soviet deployment, Pakistan's military ruler General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq started accepting financial aid from the Western powers to aid the mujahideen. In 1981, following the election of US President Ronald Reagan, aid for the mujahideen through Zia's Pakistan significantly increased, mostly due to the efforts of Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson and CIA officer Gust Avrakotos.

US "Paramilitary Officers" from the CIA's Special Activities Division were instrumental in training, equipping and sometimes leading Mujihadeen forces against the Soviet Army. Although the CIA in general and Charlie Wilson, a Texas Congressman, have received most of the attention, the key architect of this strategy was Michael G. Vickers, a young Paramilitary Officer.[59] Michael Pillsbury, a senior Pentagon official overcame bureaucratic resisistance in 1985-1986 and persuaded President Reagan to provide hundreds of Stinger missiles.

The United States, the United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia became major financial contributors, the United States donating "$600 million in aid per year, with a matching amount coming from the Persian Gulf states." The People's Republic of China also sold Type 59 tanks, Type 68 assault rifles, Type 56 assault rifles, Type 69 RPGs, and much more to mujahideen in co-operation with the CIA, as did Egypt with assault rifles. Of particular significance was the donation of US-made FIM-92 Stinger anti-aircraft missile systems, which caused a small increase in aircraft losses of the Soviet Air Force. The main impact that it made, however, was the change it led to in Soviet tactics – helicopters increasing stayed over friendly forces and limited daytime flights, jetcraft were forced to fly much higher, and other contingency measures were put in place.

An Afghan mujahideen fighter demonstrates the use of a hand-held SA-7 surface-to-air missile.In March 1985, the US government adopted National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 166, which set a goal of military victory for the mujahideen. After 1985 the CIA and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) placed greater pressure on the mujahideen to attack government strongholds. Under direct instructions from Director of Central Intelligence William Casey, the CIA initiated programs for training Afghans in techniques such as car bombs and assassinations and in engaging in cross-border raids into the USSR.

Pakistan's ISI and Special Service Group (SSG) were actively involved in the conflict, and in cooperation with the CIA and the United States Army Special Forces, as well as the British Special Air Service, supported the mujahideen.

January 1987-February 1989: Withdrawal

In the last phase, Soviet troops prepared and executed their withdrawal from Afghanistan. They hardly engaged in offensive operations at all, and were content to defend against mujahideen raid.

Soviet T-62M main battle tank withdraws from Afghanistan

in the Accords of 14 April 1988, signed three instruments-on principles of mutual relations, in particular noninterference and non-intervention, on the voluntary return of Afghan refugees, and on interrelationships for the settlement, which provided for phased withdrawal of foreign troops to begin on 15 May. The United States and the USSR also signed a declaration on international guarantees, stating they would both refrain from any form of interference and intervention.

In the first three-month period, it was reported that some 50,183 foreign troops had withdrawn. Another 50,100 left between 15 August 1988 and 15 February 1989.

A column of Soviet BTR-80s during the withdrawal.

The whole time, during the withdrawal over the border, troop convoys were coming under attack by Afghan fighters. In all 72 Soviet soldiers were killed during the withdrawal.

The total withdrawal of all Soviet troops from Afghanistan was completed on 15 February 1989, in compliance with the terms of the Geneva Accords signed 10 months earlier.

In a symbolic move, Lt. Gen. Boris Gromov was the last to walk from Afghanistan back into Soviet territory.

References :

Operation Cyclone

The Origins of the Soviet-Afghan War - Revelations from the Soviet Archives



The Taliban, alternative spelling Taleban, (Pashto: طالبان ṭālibān, meaning "students") is a Sunni Islamist political movement that governed Afghanistan from 1996 until it was overthrown in late 2001. It has regrouped since 2004 and revived as a strong insurgency movement governing mainly local Pashtun areas during night and fighting a guerrilla war against the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The Taliban movement is primarily made up of members belonging to ethnic Pashtun tribes, along with volunteers from nearby Islamic countries such as Uzbeks, Tajiks, Punjabis, Arabs, Chechens and others. It operates in Afghanistan and Pakistan, mostly in provinces around the Durand Line border. U.S. officials say their headquarters is in or near Quetta, Pakistan, and that Pakistan and Iran provide support, although both nations deny this.

The main leader of the Taliban movement is Mullah Mohammed Omar, who is believed to be hiding in Pakistan with a $25 million dollar reward for information to his capture. Omar's original commanders were "a mixture of former small-unit military commanders and madrassa teachers," while its rank-and-file was made up mostly of Afghan refugees who had studied at Islamic religious schools in Pakistan.[citation needed] The Taliban received valuable training, supplies and arms from the Pakistani government, particularly the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI),[20] and many recruits from madrasas for Afghan refugees in Pakistan, primarily ones established by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI).

Although in control of Afghanistan's capital (Kabul) and most of the country for five years, the Taliban regime, which called itself the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan", gained diplomatic recognition from only three states: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. It has regained some amount of political control and acceptance in Pakistan's border region, but recently lost one of its Pakistani leaders, Baitullah Mehsud, in a CIA missile strike. However Pakistan has launched an offensive to force the Taliban from its territory.

Taliban in Herat. 15 July 2001

While in power, the Taliban enforced one of the strictest interpretations of Sharia law ever seen in the Muslim world, and became notorious internationally for their treatment of women. Women were forced to wear the burqa in public. They were allowed neither to work nor to be educated after the age of eight, and until then were permitted only to study the Qur'an. They were not allowed to be treated by male doctors unless accompanied by a male chaperon, which led to illnesses remaining untreated. They faced public flogging in the street, and public execution for violations of the Taliban's laws. In mid-2009, the Taliban established an ombudsman office in northern Kandahar, which David Kilcullen describes as a "direct challenge" to the ISAF.


The Civil war in Afghanistan continued after the capture of Kabul by the Taliban, with the formation of the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (more commonly known as the Northern Alliance), which attempted to oust the Taliban, from 1996 to 2001.

It proved largely unsuccessful, as the Taliban continued to make gains and eliminated much of the Alliance's leadership. The Northern Alliance was supported by Russia, Turkey, Iran and India while the Taliban were supported by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.

Since 1978, Afghanistan had been in a civil war between different factions. The Mujahedin eventually succeeded in taking control in 1992, only to then descend into chaos as they fractured into different groups all fighting for control of the nation.

In 1994 the Taliban was formed and made gains against the other factions, and by 1996 they had taken Kabul and executed the former President of Afghanistan, Mohammad Najibullah, who had been residing there under UN protection since his regime was ousted in 1992.

The Taliban practiced a radical form of Sunni Islam that took strict stances on women and society. Additionally, they were a predominantly Pashtun militia, and so imposed their ethnic customs onto non-Pashtuns. Much of the civil war could be characterized as an ethnic conflict between the Pashtun Taliban, and the non-Pashtun Northern Alliance, since both sides of the conflict espoused fundamentalist Islam, though the Taliban subscribed to a particularly narrow interpretation of Islam.

September 11 attacks

The September 11 attacks (often referred to as September 11th or 9/11) were a series of coordinated suicide attacks by al-Qaeda upon the United States on September 11, 2001. On that morning, 19 al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four commercial passenger jet airliners. The hijackers intentionally crashed two of the airliners into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, killing everyone on board and many others working in the buildings. Both buildings collapsed within two hours, destroying nearby buildings and damaging others. The hijackers crashed a third airliner into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. The fourth plane crashed into a field near Shanksville in rural Pennsylvania after some of its passengers and flight crew attempted to retake control of the plane, which the hijackers had redirected toward Washington, D.C. There were no survivors from any of the flights.

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: View of the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty.

The death toll of the attacks was 2,995, including the 19 hijackers. The overwhelming majority of casualties were civilians, including nationals of over 70 countries.  In addition, there is at least one secondary death – one person was ruled by a medical examiner to have died from lung disease due to exposure to dust from the World Trade Center's collapse.

Map showing the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Picture of the World Trade Center on 9/11 shortly after the second tower had collapsed.

The United States responded to the attacks by launching the War on Terrorism. It invaded Afghanistan to depose the Taliban, who had harbored al-Qaeda terrorists.

Web Link :

September 11 attacks

Video of 9/11


Afghanistan wakes after night of intense bombings

October 7, 2001 Posted: 11:19 p.m. EDT (0319 GMT)

(CNN) -- Daylight broke over Afghanistan Monday after hours of intense bombing by U.S. and British forces overnight, the first strikes in an international campaign to flush out suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and punish those who have protected him.

The attacks against the ruling Taliban came almost a month after the September 11 terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center in New York and heavily damaged the Pentagon.

The first strikes began about 8:45 p.m. Sunday (12:15 p.m. EDT) and targeted the Taliban's air defense installations, defense ministry, airport-based command centers, airfields, electrical grids and other energy production facilities.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said about 15 land-based bombers, 25 strike aircraft and U.S. and British ships and submarines fired about 50 Tomahawk missiles against terrorist targets. (Full story)


War in Afghanistan (2001–present

The War in Afghanistan began on October 7, 2001, as the US military's Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) that was launched, along with the British military, in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US. The UK has, since 2002, led its own military operation, Operation Herrick, as part of the same war in Afghanistan. The character of the war evolved from a violent struggle against Al-Qaeda and its Taliban supporters to a complex counterinsurgency effort.

US Special Forces on November 10, upon arriving into the city with Northern Alliance fighters

The first phase of the war was the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001, when the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom, to remove the safe haven to Al-Qaeda and its use of the Afghan territory as a base of operations for terrorist activities. In that first phase, U.S. and coalition forces, working with the Afghan opposition forces of the Northern Alliance, quickly ousted the Taliban regime. During the following Karzai administration, the character of the war shifted to an effort aimed at smothering insurgency, in which the insurgents preferred not to directly confront the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops, but blended into the local population and mainly used improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and suicide bombings.

The stated aim of the invasion was to find Osama bin Laden and other high-ranking Al-Qaeda members to be put on trial, to destroy the organization of Al-Qaeda, and to remove the Taliban regime which supported and gave safe harbor to it. The Bush administration stated that, as policy, it would not distinguish between terrorist organizations and nations or governments that harbored them. The United Nations did not authorize the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.

Hamid Karzai with U.S. Special Forces during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001.

Another ongoing operation is the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which was established by the UN Security Council at the end of December 2001 to secure Kabul and the surrounding areas. NATO assumed control of ISAF in 2003. By July 23, 2009, ISAF had around 64,500 troops from 42 countries, with NATO members providing the core of the force. The NATO commitment is particularly important to the United States because it gives international legitimacy to the war. The United States has approximately 29,950 troops in ISAF.

The US and UK led the aerial bombing, in support of ground forces supplied primarily by the Afghan Northern Alliance. In 2002, American, British and Canadian infantry were committed, along with special forces from several allied nations, including Australia. Later, NATO troops were added.

PsyOps Pamphlet dropped over Mazar i Sharif

The initial attack removed the Taliban from power, but Taliban forces have since regained strength. Since 2006, Afghanistan has seen threats to its stability from increased Taliban-led insurgent activity, record-high levels of illegal drug production, and a fragile government with limited control outside of Kabul. The Taliban can sustain itself indefinitely, according to a December 2009 briefing by the top U.S. intelligence officer in Afghanistan.

A Soldier from 91st Cavalry Regiment (Airborne) watches cattle make room for a CH-47 helicopter landing in Kunar Province.

Tommy Franks meets with Army Special Forces

On December 1, 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that he would escalate U.S. military involvement by deploying an additional 30,000 soldiers over a period of six months. He also proposed to begin troop withdrawals 18 months from that date. The following day, the American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, cautioned that the timeline was flexible and “is not an absolute” and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, when asked by a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee if it is possible that no soldiers would be withdrawn in July 2011, responded, "The president, as commander in chief, always has the option to adjust his decisions."

Canadian soldiers from 3PPCLI move into the hills to search for Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters after an air assault onto an objective north of Qualat, Afghanistan.

The International Security Assistance Force

Logo of ISAF. Pashto writing: کمک او همکاری (Komak aw Hamkari) meaning "Help and Cooperation".Operating under British Lieutenant General Nick Parker,[107] the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) includes soldiers from 42 countries with U.S. troops making up about half its force.[32] ISAF had initially been established as a stabilization force by the United Nations Security Council on December 20, 2001, to secure Kabul. Its mandate did not extend beyond this area for the first few years.[108] On August 11, 2003, NATO assumed political command and coordination of ISAF.[108] On July 31, 2006, ISAF assumed command of the south of the country, and by October 5, 2006, of the east.[109]

Summary of major troop contributions (as of July 23, 2009):[32]

An Anti-Taliban Forces (ATF) fighter wraps a bandolier of ammunition for his 7.62mm PK Kalashnikov machine gun around his body as ATF personnel help secure a compound in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan, during Operation ENDURING FREEDOM 1 January 2002.

An Introduction of the Taliban
Spanish Cougar and a VBL of the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment (2e REI) in Afghanistan.

Marines searching for Taliban fighters in the spring of 2005.

British Soldiers patrol Helmand Province. 9 May 2007

Standing by on a hilltop, Soldiers with the 101st Division Special Troops Battalion, 101st Airborne Division watch as two Chinook helicopters fly in to take them back to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Nov. 4, 2008. The Soldiers searched a small village in the valley below for IED making materials and facilities. 10 November 2008

French soldiers from the 27ème bataillon de chasseurs alpins and French Task Force Tiger patrol the many valleys of Kapisa province, Afghanistan, April 21, 2009.

German troops of 4./391 mechanized infantry battalion move in combat in Kunduz' rebellious Chahar Dara district, December 2009.


Army team carries a transfer case.

Related Videos :

Afghan Woman's New Beginning in America


The War in Afghanistan (2001–present) refers to the intervention by NATO and allied forces in the Afghan political struggle, following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, to dismantle the al-Qaeda terrorist organization and to remove from power the Taliban government, which at the time controlled 90% of Afghanistan and hosted al-Qaeda leadership. U.S. President George W. Bushdemanded that the Taliban hand over Osama bin Laden and expel the al-Qaeda network which was supporting the Taliban in its war with the Afghan Northern Alliance. The Taliban recommended that bin Laden leave the country but declined to extradite him without evidence of his involvement in the 9/11 attacks. The United States refused to negotiate and launched Operation Enduring Freedom on 7 October 2001 with the United Kingdom and later joined by Germany and other western allies, to attack the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in conjunction with the Northern Alliance.[23][24]
The U.S. and allies drove the Taliban from power and gradually built new military bases near major cities across the country. However, most al-Qaeda and Taliban members escaped to neighboring Pakistan or retreated to rural or remote mountainous regions. In December 2001, the U.N. Security Council established the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), to oversee security in the country and train the Afghan National Security Forces. At the Bonn Conference in December 2001, Hamid Karzai was selected to head the Afghan Interim Administration, which after a 2002 loya jirga in Kabul became the Afghan Transitional Administration. In the popular elections of 2004, Karzai was elected the president of the new permanent Afghan government, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.[25]
In 2003, NATO assumed leadership of ISAF, included troops from 43 countries, with NATO members providing the core of the force.[26]Only a portion of U.S. forces in Afghanistan operate under NATO command; the rest remained under direct American command. Mullah Omar reorganized the Taliban movement and in 2003 launched insurgency against the Afghan government and ISAF forces.[27][28]Though vastly outgunned and outnumbered by NATO forces and the Afghan National Army, the Taliban insurgents, most notably theHaqqani Network and Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, have waged asymmetric warfare with guerilla raids and ambushes in the countryside,suicide attacks against urban targets, and turncoat killings against coalition forces. The Taliban exploited the weak administration of the Afghan government, among the most corrupt in the world, to reassert influence across rural areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan. NATO countries responded in 2006 by increasing troops for operations to "clear and hold" villages and "nation building" projects to "win hearts and minds".[29][30]
While NATO forces continued to battle the Taliban insurgency, the war expanded into neighboring North-West Pakistan.[31] In 2004, thePakistani Army began to clash with local tribes hosting al-Qaeda and Taliban militants. The U.S. military launched drone attacks in Pakistan in order to kill leaders of the insurgent groups. This resulted in the start of an insurgency in Waziristan in 2007.
On 2 May 2011, U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad, Pakistan. About three weeks later, NATO leaders endorsed an exit strategy for removing their soldiers from Afghanistan. In the meantime, UN-backed peace talks got under way between the Afghan government and the Taliban.[32] As of 2013, tens of thousands of people were killed in the war, mostly militants and ordinary civilians. In addition, over 4,000 ISAF soldiers and civilian contractors as well as over 10,000 Afghan National Security Forces also died.

In a 2004 BBC article entitled "Al-Qaeda's origins and links", the BBC wrote:
During the anti-Soviet jihad Bin Laden and his fighters received American and Saudi funding. Some analysts believe Bin Laden himself had security training from the CIA.[1]
Robin Cook, Foreign Secretary in the UK from 1997–2001, believed the CIA had provided arms to the Arab Mujahideen, including Osama bin Laden, writing, "Bin Laden was, though, a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies. Throughout the 80s he was armed by the CIA and funded by the Saudis to wage jihad against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan." His source for this is unclear.[2]
In conversation with former British Defence Secretary Michael Portillo, two-time Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto said Osama bin Laden was initially pro-American.[3] Prince Bandar bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia, has also stated that bin Laden once expressed appreciation for the United States' help in Afghanistan. On CNN's Larry King program he said:[4]
Bandar bin Sultan: This is ironic. In the mid-'80s, if you remember, we and the United - Saudi Arabia and the United States were supporting the Mujahideen to liberate Afghanistan from the Soviets. He [Osama bin Laden] came to thank me for my efforts to bring the Americans, our friends, to help us against the atheists, he said the communists. Isn't it ironic?
Larry King: How ironic. In other words, he came to thank you for helping bring America to help him.
Bandar bin Sultan: Right.
According to author David N. Gibbs "a considerable body of circumstantial evidence suggests ... direct Agency support for Bin Laden’s activities."[5] Both Bin Laden and the CIA "held accounts in the Bank for Credit and Commerce International (BCCI)."[5] "Bin Laden worked especially closely with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar"[6] who Gibbs calls "the CIA's favored Mujahiddin commander". Gibbs quotes Le Monde as saying bin Laden was "recruited by the CIA" in 1979,[5][7] Associated Press as saying a former bin Laden aide told them that in 1989 the U.S. shipped high-powered sniper rifles to a Mujahiddin faction that included bin Laden,[5][8] and Jane’s Intelligence Review as stating Bin Laden "worked in close association with U.S. agents" in raising money for the Mujahiddin from "vast family connections" near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.[5][9]
Former FBI translator and Whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, interviewed by Brad Friedman on the The Mike Malloy Show on June 2009 has stated : "I have information about things that our government has lied to us about. I know. For example, to say that since the fall of the Soviet Union we ceased all of our intimate relationship with Bin Laden and the Taliban - those things can be proven as lies, very easily, based on the information


General Facts and Statistics

  • Area: 647,500 sq. km. (249,935 sq. mi.), slightly smaller than Texas
  • Capital: Kabul 5,000,000 (approx.)
  • Population: 29,863,000 (2005 est.)
  • Natural resources: Natural gas, petroleum, coal, copper, chromite, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, zinc, iron ore, salt, precious and semiprecious stones
  • Land use: Arable land 12% Permanent pastures 46% Forests and woodland 3% Other 39%
  • Literacy rate: 28.7 percent (UN Afghanistan Human Development Report of 2005)

    Major religious, ethnic, and linguistic groups

    For centuries, Afghanistan has been a mosaic of people with diverse cultures, religions and languages. Afghanistan’s ethnically and linguistically rich and mixed population reflects its location at the crossroads of Central, South and Southwest Asia. Communities with separate religions, languages, and ethnic backgrounds have lived side by side for generations. Afghanistan still remains a country of dynamic diversity.
    The main ethnic groups are Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkmen, Aimaq, Baluch, Nuristani, and Kizilbash.
    Pashto and Dari are Afghanistan’s official languages. Afghanistan’s Constitution stipulates that all other languages are “official” in the areas in which they are spoken by a majority of the population.
    Afghanistan is an Islamic country. An estimated 80% of the population is Sunni, following the Hanafi School of jurisprudence. The remainder of the population is predominantly Shi'a.