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heights of the Kabul Gorge, they still find ancient belt
buckles and corroded sword hilts. You
can no longer read the insignia of
the British regiments of the old East India Company but their bones those of all 16,000 of them
still lie somewhere amid the dark
earth and scree of the most forbidding
if there is one country calling it a nation would be a
misnomer that the West should avoid
militarily, it is the tribal land
in which Osama Bin Laden maintains his obscure sanctuary. Just over two decades ago, I found
out what it was like
to be on an invasion army in that breathlessly beautiful, wild, proud plateau. Arrested by the Russian
Parachute Regiment near
the Salang Tunnel, I was sent with a Soviet convoy back to
1839 we British were also worried about the Russians. General Elphinstone lead an East India Company
army of 16,500
along with 38,000 followers into
He bartered his freedom in return for a safe passage back to the British fort in Jalalabad, close to the Indian frontier. It was one of the coldest winters on record and with few supplies, virtually no food and false promises of safety, he led his army their columns 10 miles in length out into the frozen desolation of the Kabul Gorge. The camp followers were left by the wayside; contemporary records describe Indian women attached to the British army's colonial force, stripped naked, starving, raped and knifed by Afghan tribesmen, their corpses left in the snow. Elphinstone had long since given up trying to protect them. Yet each new foray down the chasm of the Kabul Gorge I was to see the remains of a Russian convoy littered across the same track almost 140 years later led to further ambushes and massacres.
Elphinstone secured the safety of himself, a few officers and a party of English ladies. The last British guardsmen were cut down on the heights, surrounded by thousands of Afghans, firing to the last round, the company commander dying with the Union flag wrapped around his waist. Days later, the last survivor of the massacres, galloping his exhausted horse Jalalabad was attacked by two Afghan cavalry. Hacking them away from him, he broke his sword, Hollywood-style, on one of the men. But with his horse dying beneath him, he reached the British fort. It was to date the greatest defeat of British arms in history.
Ironically, one of Elphinstone's successors was visiting the site of the 1842 massacre in 1880 when he heard that his army this was the Second Afghan War had been attacked in a remote semi-desert called Maiwand where the 30th Bombay Infantry was fighting off thousands of ghazi warriors who were charging suicidally at British cannon and Egyptian colonial troops. Savage in their assaults, waving green Islamic banners and utterly heedless of their own lives and the word "suicidal" is not used loosely here they threw themselves among the British.
We were to conduct a military inquiry into the disaster that followed and now, in the fragile, yellowing pages of the Indian British Army's Intelligence Branch report we can find chilling evidence of what this meant. Captain Wainwaring was to recall how "the whole of the ground to the left of the 30th Native Infantry, and between it and the Grenadiers, was covered with swarms of ghazis and banner-men. The ghazis were actually in the ranks of the Grenadiers, pulling the men out and hacking them down with their swords ...''. A young Afghan woman all we know is that her name was Malaleh feared that the tribesmen might withdraw and so tore off her veil, holding it above her head as a flag and charging at the Grenadiers herself. She was shot down by British rifle fire. But the British fled. In all, they lost 1,320 men including 21 officers, along with 1,000 rifles and at least 600 swords.
Game was supposed to be about frontiers about keeping a British-controlled
"openly and assiduously endeavoured ... to stir up
religious hatred against the English,''
our declaration of war had announced
were to endure their 10 years of