October 5, 2010 0 Comments

The British used aircraft in the Third Afghan War in 1919, and with great success against an uprising in Iraq from 1922 onwards. The famed Handley Page V/1500 was called into action and ordered to bomb the royal Palace in Kabul. On 24 May 1919, a lone plane flown by Captain Robert "Jock" Halley appeared on the Kabul sky. After circling for a while it hovered above the royal palace and dropped its entire ammunition load that consisted of four large sized bombs. Although the bombing itself did little physical damage but it had a great psychological impact on the citizens - the women of the royal harem rushed on to the streets in terror - and in a few days King Amanullah had called a truce.

Thal Fort at the entrance to the Kurram Valley was besieged by the Afghan Army during the third Afghan War.

The Third Anglo-Afghan War was the shortest of the conflicts between Britain and Afghanistan, lasting from 4 May 1919 until a cease-fire was agreed to on 3 June 1919. During World War I, Afghanistan had remained neutral (although some members of the government had favored an invasion of India), and Amir Habibullah had anticipated receiving a financial reward from Britain and a recognition of Afghanistan’s status as an independent nation. However, Britain was not prepared to relinquish its hold over Afghanistan, and Habibullah was assassinated in February 1919 without any progress having been made.

His son, Amanullah, succeeded Habibullah and immediately demanded that the British negotiate a treaty that would secure recognition of Afghanistan’s independence and restore normal relations between the two states. However, the viceroy of India, Lord Chelmsford, insisted that no new treaty was necessary—a position that was at total variance with earlier British arguments, which consistently maintained that agreements with Afghan rulers were personal and had to be renegotiated with each new ruler. Lord Chelmsford would only recognize Amanullah as ruler of Kabul and its immediate surroundings, maintaining that the amir did not have total control of the country. As a consequence, the subsidy paid to former Afghan rulers was withdrawn.

Amanullah began to assert his independence, and on 13 April 1919, he announced to an assembly of dignitaries that Afghanistan was a free and independent state and would resist any attempt by a foreign power to interfere in either its internal or external affairs. His words were reinforced by action when the amir sent three of his generals to the border with British India: Sahel Muhammad, the commander- in-chief, went to Dakka on the border on 3 May 1919, and two days later, Abdul Quddus, the prime minister, moved to the region of Qalat-i- Ghilzai; the third general, Muhammad Nadir, who later became king of Afghanistan, moved to Khost on 6 May with several thousand lashkars (tribal forces) in addition to his regular forces.

The British government in India responded by halting the post–World War I demobilization of all forces in India and initiated a recall of all British officers, with the intention of facing Afghanistan with a superior force that would intimidate the Afghans and cause them to withdraw from the border regions. Although the British army viewed the Afghan troops as understrength, poorly trained, and badly paid, they were aware of the power of the tribal forces on both sides of the border, who were noted for their aggression and had intimate knowledge of the terrain. The position was complicated by the fact that the Pashtun members of the British Khyber Rifles were unwilling to fight against fellow Pashtuns, and the units had to be disbanded after 600 soldiers of the 700-man force chose to be discharged rather than serve against their Afghan brothers.

The first aggressive action came from the Afghan forces, who cut the water supply to Landi Kotal on the Indian side of the frontier; Britain responding by closing the Khyber Pass. The Afghans hoped to strengthen their position by causing the frontier tribes to take up arms against the British, particularly in Peshawar. The situation in Peshawar was contained when the British forces cut off supplies of water, food, and electricity to the city, but the entire frontier area was seething with unrest. Although Sahel Muhammad’s forces had lost ground to the British forces, the Afghans were able to break through in Waziristan and lay siege to the British base at Thal. On the southern front, British forces captured the town of Spin Boldak but were unable to advance farther, and in the area around Chitral, no actions took place.

The siege of Thal prevented British forces from moving on Jalalabad because of a shortage of mechanized transport, which meant that two offensives could not take place simultaneously. The government in India allowed the Afghan envoy in India to return to Kabul to attempt to persuade Amanullah to cease hostilities, and a cease-fire was agreed to. Peace negotiations were protracted, with negotiations taking place at Rawalpindi and Mussoorie, before a treaty was concluded at Kabul in 1921. The treaty led to British India’s recognition of King Amanullah as ruler of an independent state, and neighborly relations were established between the two countries.


Heathcote, T. A. 1980. The Afghan Wars, 1839–1919. London: Osprey.

Molesworth, George Noble. 1962. Afghanistan, 1919: An Account of Operations in the Third Afghan War. London and New York: Asia Publishing House.



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