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The Savage Frontier: A History of the…

The Savage Frontier: A History of the Anglo-Afghan Wars

by D.S. Richards

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This book is a clear narrative of the Anglo-Afghan Wars, and worthwhile for that alone. However, it is more compelling given the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, and then by the United States. It shows that we do not learn from history. The lessons learned by the British in Afghanistan during the 19th Century have had to be learned all over again. For example, in 1842, SIr Neville Bowles Chamberlain (not the Neville Chamberlain of "Appeasement" fame) wrote after a battle:

We marched one mile past the cantonments and encamped. They were a perfect waste, and where so much money had been spent not a house or barrack or tree left. Everything like its unhappy tennants, destroyed and gone forever; only here and there a trace of some gallant soldier might be distinguished in a small mound of earth....What scenes of woe and misery were here enacted, and this desolate place is a type of our miserable policy.
The destruction of our political influence is not more complete than of our cantonments. Twenty thousand men and fifteen crores of rupees have been swallowed up all in vain.

p.55. The Soviet Union insisted on learning the lesson through its own hard experience in Afghanistan. We can understand that Soviets might have reasoned that with their more modern weapons that they might succeed where the British had failed, but as the author points out, the Soviets fared no better:

...economic exhaustion, an ever-lengthening casualty list and the recognition of the impossibility of curbing widespread guerrilla activity in a mountainous terrain with its frontiers open for a ready supply of sophisticated weaponry...

p.204. The United States ignored the lessons of the British and the Soviet invasions of Afghanistan, and now has had to learn them for itself.
This book was written before the final withdrawal of the Soviet troops, with its moral being that the Afghans may lose every set battle, but their guerrilla tactics make them ultimately unconquerable by military force. Of course it is now merely trite to say that Afghanistan is where empires go to die, but this book provides the actual narrative of the battles where Britain lost its money and so many of its own young men, as well as the young men of the sepoy troops (Indians and Sikhs)--not to mention the tremendous loss of Afghan soldiers, guerrillas, and civilians. ( )
  Banbury | Dec 20, 2012 |
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