Afghan War, Second (1878–1880)PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Britain vs. Afghans under Sher Ali Akbar Khan
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Afghanistan
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The British invaded Afghanistan in response to the pro-Russian stance of Sher Ali Akbar Khan, Afghan emir, which threatened the northern approaches to colonial India.
OUTCOME: Creation of a pro-British government under Abdur Rahman
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS:35,300 Anglo-Indian troops; as many as 100,000 Afghans
CASUALTIES: British, 1,850 killed in action, and 8,000 dead from disease; Afghans, 8,900 killed in action
TREATIES: May 26, 1879, treaty with Emir Yakub Khan
When Sher Ali Akbar Khan (1825–79) succeeded his father, Dost Muhammad (1793–1863), as emir of Afghanistan,he made diplomatic overtures to the Russians yet refused to receive a British delegation. This provoked a British invasion on November 20, 1878. General Sir Frederick Roberts led Anglo-Indian troops from India and quickly took the frontier passes. Soon, 35,300 Anglo-Indian troops were in the country. When Roberts defeated an army under Sher Ali at Peiwar Kotal on December 2,the emir fled and was replaced by his son Yakub Khan (1849–?), who concluded a treaty of peace with Britain on May 26, 1879. A British diplomat, Sir Louis Cavagnari,was installed in Kabul.On September 3, 1879, thousands of Afghans stormed the British residency in Kabul, killing Cavagnari and others.This provoked reprisal in the form of a force of 2,558 British regulars and 3,867 Sepoy troops, again under Sir Frederick Roberts, which defeated an 8,000-man Afghan army at the Battle of Charasia, southwest of Kabul, on October 6, 1879. Six days later the British marched on and occupied Kabul as well as its fortress, Bala Hissar, prompting the abdication of Yakub Khan; he sought British protection from insurgents who called for a holy war against the British. An estimated 100,000 Afghans took up arms against the occupiers of Kabul. Remarkably, however, the vastly outnumbered Roberts broke through the Afghan lines, outflanked the besiegers, and succeeded in dispersing the army. Troops under Sir Donald Stewart conducted mop-up operations that restored British control until June 1880, when Ayub Khan (1854–1914), brother of Yakub Khan, laid claim to the Afghan throne. With 15,000 men, Ayub marched on Kandahar. In response General G. R. S.Burroughs led a force of 2,467 Anglo-Indians to block Ayub Khan. The result was the Battle of Maiwand, fought on July 27, 1880. Ayub dealt the outnumbered Anglo-Indian force a severe blow, destroying half of it.After defeating Burroughs, Ayub Khan continued his march on Kandahar. On August 9, 1880, however, Sir Frederick Roberts led 9,896 Anglo-Indian troops and a special transport corps on a lightning advance to Kandahar, where he planned to intercept Ayub Khan. Completing the 313-mile journey, much of it in mountainous terrain, in just 22.16 Afghan War, Second days, Roberts’s force reached Kandahar on September 1 and immediately launched an attack. Stunned, Ayub’s troops were routed, and Ayub Khan fled to Herat. The Battle of Kandahar ended the Second Afghan War and brought about the establishment of a pro-British government under Amin Abdur Rhaman Khan (r. 1880–1901).The following year, after the British forces again withdrew from Afghanistan, Ayub Khan led a rebellion against Abdur Rhaman, who, however, rapidly crushed the insurgent movement. Ayub Khan fled to Persia, and Abdur Rhaman established a stable government.
See also AFGHAN WAR, FIRST; AFGHAN WAR, THIRD.Further reading: Edgar O’Ballance, Afghan Wars, 1839–1992 (New York: Brassey’s, 1993).