Afghanistan: The Graveyard of Empires: Part 1 of a Series


“When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s Plains

And the women come out to cut up what remains

Just roll on your rifle an’ blow out your brains

An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.”

Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the United States, American, British, and Allied troops of 36 other nations have been involved in defeating the radical Islamist allies of Al-Qaeda (and the Muslim Brotherhood) and bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan. The security of the United States and many nations depend on the success of their mission, but it will not be easy

Once part of the Persian Empire, Afghanistan is a land-locked country of 33 million people, approximately 80 percent Sunni Muslim and 19 percent Shia Muslim. In addition, about 2.7 million Afghan refugees are in neighboring Pakistan.

The area that is now Afghanistan was a crossroad of trade, war, and empires in ancient times. Its temporary conquerors included Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. It is a region of mountains and windswept plains, frigid in winter and blazing hot in the summer. Water flows through the country from the melting winter snows in the mountains, but the climate is generally very dry. It is a country rich in unexploited minerals, but its major products representing 35 percent of the economy are illicit drugs made from growing poppy and exported as opium, morphine, heroin, and hashish.

Afghanistan is a land of ethnic diversity and strong tribal loyalties. Approximately 49 percent speak Afghan Persian (Dari) as their first language, which is also widely spoken as a second language. It is the primary language of the second largest tribal group, the Tajiks, representing 27 percent of the Afghan population. Pashtun is the first language of about 37 percent, but the Pashtun tribes make up about 50 percent of Afghanistan’s population and occupy considerably more than 50 percent of Afghanistan’s territory. The Pashtun dominated area of the country is roughly approximate to Taliban radical Islamic control. Approximately eleven percent of Afghans speak Turkic languages, primarily Uzbek and Turkmen. The rest speak 30 different languages, the largest of which are Balochi and Pashayi.

An especially interesting minority in Afghanistan, about 9 percent of the population, are the Hazara, who are almost exclusively Shia Muslims. They occupy the rugged and difficult-to-access central highlands of Afghanistan. About two-thirds of the men have the same Y-DNA as Genghis Khan, and many of them manifest East Asian facial features. A significant minority is fairer in coloring and bears a resemblance to Eastern Europeans. The Hazara have a distinctive culture and both men and women are said to make formidable soldiers. The Taliban’s policy is to exterminate all of them.

Modern Afghanistan began about 1709 with the rise of the Pashtun and became an established state in 1747. Afghanistan’s total economic GDP (PPP) is $69.3 billion per year, only slightly larger than the GDP of New Hampshire and less than 40 percent of what U.S taxpayers pay per year to support the fiscal deficit required to support illegal and excessive legal immigrant labor in the U.S. Afghanistan’s per capita GDP is $2,000 per year. Two thirds of Afghan’s population lives on less than $3 per day. Adult male literacy is about 43 percent and female literacy is under thirteen percent.

In the nineteenth century, the British and Russian empires vied for dominance of Afghanistan and Southwest Asia in what has been called the “Great Game.”

The British occupied Afghanistan from 1839 to 1919 and fought three Anglo-Afghan wars in 1839-1842, 1878-1880, and lastly in 1919.

During the first Anglo-Afghan War, Britain suffered one of the most devastating military disasters in its history. In 1838, the British attempted to form an alliance with Pashtun Emir Dost Muhammad in order to block the Russians from threatening India. This alliance failed, so an expeditionary force of 21,000 British and Indian troops under the command of Sir John Keane marched into Afghanistan and installed Shuja Shah Durani as Afghan leader. Keane was subsequently replaced by Sir Willoughby Cotton and then by Major General William Elphinstone. All but 8,000 troops returned to India. In order to improve the morale of these occupying troops, Sir William Hay Macnaghten, the senior British diplomat assigned to Afghanistan, allowed military dependents to accompany soldiers stationed near Kabul. This was seen by the Afghans, however, as the establishment of a permanent British-Indian occupational force and ignited further resistance led by Dost Muhammad’s son, Prince Muhammad Akbar Khan. It soon became evident that a small British-Indian occupational force would not be able to maintain control of Afghanistan, and the growing tribal alliance under Akbar Khan, succeeded in occupying much of the country.

By October 1841, the main British-Indian expeditionary force in Afghanistan found itself surrounded in an indefensible cantonment just northeast of Kabul. In November, a senior British diplomat, Sir Alexander Burnes, and two of his aides were killed by a mob in Kabul. British failure to respond with resolute force only intensified Afghan revolt. As the British military situation in Kabul deteriorated, Macnaghten secretly offered to make Akbar Khan vizier of Afghanistan, if the British were allowed to stay. At the same time, however, British secret agents were disbursing large sums of money to have him assassinated. On December 23, Macnaghten and Akbar Khan met for direct negotiations, but Akbar Khan, having discovered this impending British diplomatic treachery, had Macnaghten and three accompanying officers seized and killed.

On January 1, with the British-Indian force near Kabul cut off from immediate supply, Elphinstone negotiated with Akbar Khan for the withdrawal and safe passage of his forces and their dependents from Afghanistan. The plan was to withdraw to an area of India now in Pakistan, first joining the smaller besieged British detachment at Jalalabad, near the border. The 90-mile trek included a 30-mile passage through the treacherous gorges along the Kabul River between Kabul and Gandamark.

The British-Indian expeditionary force included only 4,500 troops composed mainly of Indian regiments. Only the 690 men of the 44th East Essex Foot were British. In addition, there were 12,000 camp followers, mainly the dependents of Indian soldiers.

Despite the safe passage the British had been granted, the withdrawing expeditionary force and their dependents were harassed and continually attacked by Ghilzai Pashtun tribal warriors. As British supplies and ammunition diminished, the attacks became more intense, finally resulting in a running battle in two feet of snow. By January 13, the entire British-Indian expeditionary force had been reduced to less than 40 men who were massacred at Gandamark. Nine men of the remnants of the 44th were taken prisoner. Only one man, Surgeon Dr. William Brydon reached Jalalabad.

In the spring of 1842, the British regained Kabul and reestablished British hegemony in Afghanistan. Following the British military victory in the third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919, a firm Indian-Afghan border was established, and the Afghans agreed not to foment trouble on the British side. In return, the Afghans were allowed to conduct their own foreign affairs as a fully independent state. But there is much more bloody history to tell of this “graveyard of empires.”

I agree with Trump’s recent military plans for Afghanistan, because for the first time the ridiculous restrictions limiting common sense and accumulated military experience and wisdom have been removed. We should give it a chance. However, unless we discard the conspicuous lie and nonsense that the fundamentalist Islam of the Koran and Muhammad’s Sunna is a religion of peace, we will be too tactically and strategically handicapped to continue. The Taliban, like ISIS, are the very personification of fundamentalist Islam. We need to destroy them in detail by attrition and discredit their Islamic supremacist ideology.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR   –  Mike Scruggs, Author and Columnist

a.k.a. Leonard M. Scruggs

 Mike Scruggs is the author of two books: The Un-Civil War: Shattering the Historical Myths; and Lessons from the Vietnam War: Truths the Media Never Told You, and over 600 articles on military history, national security, intelligent design, genealogical genetics, immigration, current political affairs, Islam, and the Middle East.

He holds a BS degree from the University of Georgia and an MBA from Stanford University. A former USAF intelligence officer and Air Commando, he is a decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and holds the Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, and Air Medal. He is a retired First Vice President for a major national financial services firm and former Chairman of the Board of a classical Christian school.

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