Military Wiki
Second Anglo–Afghan War
Part of the Great Game
Battle in Afghanistan.jpg
92nd Highlanders at Kandahar. Oil by Richard Caton Woodville
LocationEmirate of Afghanistan

British victory

  • British withdraw after achieving the desired political goals through the Treaty of Gandamak[1][2][3][4]
  • Afghans maintain internal sovereignty but cede various frontier areas and the control of their nation's foreign relations to the British
Flag of Afghanistan (1880–1901).svg Afghanistan

United Kingdom British Empire

Commanders and leaders
Flag of Afghanistan (1880–1901).svg Sher Ali Khan,
Flag of Afghanistan (1880–1901).svg Ayub Khan
British Raj Samuel Browne
British Raj Frederick Roberts
British Raj Donald Stewart
Casualties and losses
5,000+ killed in major battles, total unknown.[5] 1,850 killed in action or died of wounds,
8,000 dead of disease[5]

The Second Anglo–Afghan War was fought between the United Kingdom and the Emirate of Afghanistan from 1878 to 1880, when the nation was ruled by Sher Ali Khan of the Barakzai dynasty, the son of former Emir Dost Mohammad Khan. This was the second time British India invaded Afghanistan. The war ended in the Treaty of Gandamak after attaining all the British geopolitical objectives. Most of the British and Indian soldiers withdrew from Afghanistan. The Afghans were permitted to maintain internal sovereignty but they had to cede control of their nation's foreign relations to the British.[3][4]


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.[6]

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.[6]

First phase

A British force of about 40,000 fighting men, mostly British and Indians, 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.[7]

Mohammad Yaqub Khan with Britain's Sir Pierre Cavagnari on May 26, 1879, when the Treaty of Gandamak was signed, photograph by John Burke.


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 North-West Frontier Province areas and Quetta to Britain. The British Army then withdrew.[8]

However, on 3 September 1879 an uprising in Kabul led to the slaughter of Sir Louis Cavagnari, the British representative, along with his guards, and staff – provoking the next phase of the Second Afghan War.[9]

Second phase

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 two days later.[10] Ghazi Mohammad Jan Khan Wardak, and a force of 10,000 Afghans, staged an uprising and attacked British forces near Kabul in the Siege of the Sherpur Cantonment in December 1879. Despite besieging the British garrison there, he failed to maintain the Siege of Sherpur, instead shifting focus to Roberts' force, and this 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.[11][12]

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 on 1 September at the Battle of Kandahar, bringing his rebellion to an end.[11] 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.[13]

Abandoning the provocative policy of maintaining a British resident in Kabul, but having achieved all their other objectives, the British withdrew.[11]

Captured British soldiers

The British officer John Masters recorded in his autobiography that Afghan women in the North-West Frontier Province (1901–1955) of British India during the Second Anglo-Afghan War would castrate non-Muslim soldiers who were captured, like British and Sikhs.[14][15] They also used an execution method involving urine; Pathan women urinated into prisoner's mouths.[16] Captured British soldiers were spread out and fastened with restraints to the ground, then a stick, or a piece of wood was used to keep their mouth open to prevent swallowing. Pathan women then squatted and urinated directly into the mouth of the man until he drowned in the urine, taking turns one at a time.[17][18][19][20][21][22][23]

Timeline of battles

There were several decisive actions in the Second Anglo–Afghan War, from 1878 to 1880. Here are the battles and actions in chronological order. An asterisk (*) indicates a clasp was awarded for that particular battle with the Afghanistan Medal.

British team at the site of the Battle of Ali Masjid

British Royal Horse Artillery withdrawing at the Battle of Maiwand

Afghan victors of the Battle of Maiwand


  1. Battle of Ali Masjid* (Decisive British victory)
  2. Battle of Peiwar Kotal* (British victory)


  1. Action at Takht-i-Pul
  2. Action at Matun
  3. Battle of Khushk-i-Nakud
  4. Battle of Fatehabad* (Afghan victory)
  5. Battle of Kam Dakka* (Decisive Afghan victory)
  6. Battle of Charasiab*
  7. Battle of Shajui
  8. Battle of Karez Mir
  9. Battle of Takht-i-Shah
  10. Battle of Asmai Heights* (Decisive Afghan victory)
  11. Siege of Sherpur* (Decisive British victory)


  1. Battle of Ahmed Khel* (British victory)
  2. Battle of Arzu
  3. Second Battle of Charasiab
  4. Battle of Maiwand (Decisive Afghan victory)
  5. Battle of Deh Koja (Afghan Victory)
  6. Battle of Kandahar* (Decisive British victory)


  1. Kandahar (and Afghanistan) Evacuation

Order of battle

Durban Maidan of Sherpur Cantonment in 1879.

Bengal Sapper and Miners Bastion in Sherpur cantonment.

Highlanders of Amir Yaqub at Gandamak

Drummer James Roddick of the Gordon Highlanders defends a wounded officer during British attack at Gundi Mulla Sahibdad during the Battle of Kandahar

45th Rattray's Sikhs guard Afghan prisoners during an advance through the Khyber Pass

In Fiction

  • At the beginning of Study in Scarlet, the first of the Sherlock Holmes books, Dr. Watson is mentioned as having been wounded in the Second Anglo–Afghan War and invalided home.
  • M.M. Kaye's novel The Far Pavilions is set, in part, during the Second Anglo-Afghan War.

See also


  1. Adamec, L.W.; Norris, J.A., Anglo-Afghan Wars, in Encycloædia Iranica, online ed., 2010
  2. Norris, J.A., Anglo-Afghan Relations, in Encycloædia Iranica, online ed., 2010
  3. 3.0 3.1 Barfield, Thomas (2010). Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History. Princeton University Press. p. 145. ISBN 978-0-691-14568-6. Retrieved 22 August 2010. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Posturee, Bad (2002). Understanding Holocausts: How, Why and When They Occur. iUniverse. p. 84. ISBN 978-0-595-23838-5. Retrieved 22 August 2010. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Robson, Brian. (2007). The Road to Kabul: The Second Afghan War 1878–1881. Stroud: Spellmount. p. 299. ISBN 978-1-86227-416-7. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Barthorp, Michael (2002) [1982]. Afghan Wars and the North-West Frontier 1839–1947. London: Cassell. pp. 66–67. ISBN 0-304-36294-8. 
  7. Hanna, Henry Bathurst (1904). The Second Afghan War, 1878-79-80: Its Causes, Its Conduct and Its Consequences. 2. Archibald Constable & Co. pp. 150–155. 
  8. Barthorp, Michael (2002) [1982]. Afghan Wars and the North-West Frontier 1839–1947. London: Cassell. pp. 71. ISBN 0-304-36294-8. 
  9. Wilkinson-Latham, Robert (1998) [1977]. North-West Frontier 1837–1947. London: Osprey Publishing. p. 15. ISBN 0-85045-275-9. 
  10. Barthorp, Michael (2002) [1982]. Afghan Wars and the North-West Frontier 1839–1947. London: Cassell. pp. 77–79. ISBN 0-304-36294-8. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Wilkinson-Latham, Robert (1998) [1977]. North-West Frontier 1837–1947. London: Osprey Publishing. pp. 16–17. ISBN 0-85045-275-9. 
  12. Barthorp, Michael (2002) [1982]. Afghan Wars and the North-West Frontier 1839–1947. London: Cassell. pp. 81–85. ISBN 0-304-36294-8. 
  13. Barthorp, Michael (2002) [1982]. Afghan Wars and the North-West Frontier 1839–1947. London: Cassell. pp. 85–90. ISBN 0-304-36294-8. 
  14. Masters, John (1956). Bugles and a Tiger: A Volume of Autobiography. Viking Press. p. 190. Retrieved 5 April 2011. 
  15. Barthorp, Michael; Anderson, Dougas N. (1996). The Frontier Ablaze: The North-West Frontier Rising, 1897–98. Windrow & Greene. p. 12. ISBN 1-85915-023-3.,+according+to+John+Masters,+liable+to+be+castrated+and+beheaded,+usually+by+the+women.&dq=Any+non-Moslem+taken+alive+was,+according+to+John+Masters,+liable+to+be+castrated+and+beheaded,+usually+by+the+women.. Retrieved 5 April 2011. 
  16. Devereux, George (1976). Dreams in Greek Tragedy: An Ethno-psycho-analytical Study. University of California Press. p. 237. ISBN 0-520-02921-6. Retrieved 5 April 2011. 
  17. Masters, John (1956). Bugles and a Tiger: A Volume of Autobiography. Viking Press. p. 190. Retrieved 5 April 2011. 
  18. Miller, Charles (1977). Khyber, British India's North West Frontier: The Story of an Imperial Migraine. Macdonald and Jane's. p. 359. ISBN 0-354-04167-3. Retrieved 5 April 2011. 
  19. Richards, Donald Sydney (1990). The Savage Frontier: A History of the Anglo-Afghan Wars. Macmillan. p. 182. ISBN 0-333-52557-4. Retrieved 5 April 2011. 
  20. Trench, Charles Chenevix (1985). The Frontier Scouts. Cape. ISBN 0-224-02321-7.,+his+privy+members+thrust+into+his+mouth%3B+to+be+flayed+alive%3B+or+to+be+pegged+out,+his+mouth+open+into+which+the+women+of+the+tribe+urinated+until+he+drowned&nfpr=1&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.&fp=631d800680272d4. Retrieved 5 April 2011. 
  21. Mahle, H.S. (1985). Indo-Anglian Fiction: Some Perceptions: Including Some Lectures on Karnadʾs Tughlaq. Jainsons Publications. p. 24. Retrieved 5 April 2011. 
  22. Clay, John (1992). John Masters: A Regimented Life. University of Michigan: Michael Joseph. p. 62. ISBN 0-7181-2945-8. Retrieved 5 April 2011. 
  23. Masters, John (June 13, 2002). Bugles and a Tiger. Cassell Military (June 13, 2002). p. 190. ISBN 0-304-36156-9. Retrieved 5 April 2011. 


  • Barthorp, Michael. 2002. Afghan Wars and the North-West Frontier 1839–1947. Cassell. London. ISBN 0-304-36294-8
  • Gathorne-Hardy, Gathorne (1878). The Afghan War. Publications of the National Union. Westminster: National Union of Conservative and Constitutional Associations. 
  • Wilkinson-Latham, Robert. 1977. North-West Frontier 1837–1947. Osprey Publishing. London. ISBN 0-85045-275-9

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