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Disaster in Afghanistan: The First Afghan War of 1839

Disaster in Afghanistan: The First Afghan War of 1839

Update: 2021-08-23


Sophie (age 7) and Ellie (age 5) tell of the First Afghan War of 1839, where the British invaded Afghanistan and were forced into a disastrous retreat from Kabul.
----more----In 1839 the British controlled India. They had built a mighty Empire. However, the Russians were also building a mighty Empire in Asia. The British worried that a Russian army might invade India. In between Russia and India was Afghanistan.

Then the Afghans got a new king called Dost Mohammed. The British were worried he would be too friendly to the Russians. They decided to invade and replace him. They sent an army into Afghanistan. The army was partly British and partly well trained Indian soldiers. The British expected to win easily. They even took their wives with them.

The British marched through the mountains to Kabul, capturing other towns like Kandahar on the way. In Kabul, Dost Mohammed fled. The British picked another Afghan to be king called Shuja Shah because they thought he would be good for Britain, not because he was popular.

The war seemed won and so lots of the British soldiers returned to India. They left around 5000 soldiers in Kabul.

The British had been paying money to local Afghan tribesmen. To save money the British decided to reduce the money they were paying. The Afghan tribesmen were upset and started attacked British wagons. British soldiers from Kabul defeated the Afghan tribesmen. The British demanded that the Afghans give up some of their children to ensure they would stop fighting. The Afghans refused and the fighting carried on.

Then some of the British soldiers took some Afghan women as girlfriends. The Afghan men were very angry and decided they wanted revenge.

Dost Mohammed had a son called Mohammed Akbar Khan. He called the different tribes together. They all agreed to attack the British. At the end of the meeting they started shouting “Jihad, Jihad” which means “struggle, struggle”.

The next day the British were attacked. Different British officers were murdered trying to talk to the Afghans. The British General was not sure what to do. He decided to ask Mohammed Akbar Khan if the British could just go back to India.

Mohammed Akbar Khan agreed but insisted that the British give up their cannons and leave behind most of their gunpowder. The British agreed.

However, as soon as the British were out of Kabul the Afghans attacked again. They kept attacking all the way home for the British. The British agreed to surrender their women to the Afghans. However, the attacks continued.

Only one British officer escaped. He stumbled on a pony back to a British fort. He was all that was left of the thousands in Kabul.

The British were furious. They attacked Kabul with another army. They captured the place. But they did not want to stay. Once they left the old ruler of Afghanistan, Dost Mohammed, became ruler again.

At the end of the story, Ellie reflects on how this is a story which should be better known. Sophie summarises the story as being about the British deciding to replace the Afghan rulers by invading the place, then being forced into a humiliating retreat, after which the old rulers came back.


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Disaster in Afghanistan: The First Afghan War of 1839

Disaster in Afghanistan: The First Afghan War of 1839

Sophie (7) & Ellie (5) tell history for kids