Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Massacre of Elphinstones Army

The last stand of the survivors of Her Majesty's 44th Foot
History is a great teacher. Unfortunately, she is a teacher to whom we pay far too little attention.

The Massacre of Elphinstone's Army was the destruction by Afghan forces, led by Akbar Khan, the son of Dost Mohammad Khan, of a combined British and Indian force of the British East India Company, led by Major General William Elphinstone, in January 1842.

British and Indian troops captured Kabul in 1839, in the "1st Anglo-Afghan War". Kabul was a nice, clean little city with wood-framed buildings. The British immediately began 'colonization' and set up things such as a race track, held European style events, such as Shakespearean plays and held lavish balls and formal teas (complete with imported wines and champagne). Those things did not sit well with the Afghan's. 

But, perhaps their biggest mistake was in cutting off the bribe money that had been flowing. During the war, they had bought off many of the tribal leaders in the countryside, encouraging them to not support the Afghan Army. After the war, the British felt the "Annual Tributes" were too high and unnecessary. The tribal leaders felt that gave them license to attack and rob British and Indian supply convoys and outposts.

Akbar Khan organized and led an Afghan uprising which forced the occupying garrison out of Kabul. The East India Company army of 4,500 troops, along with 12,000 civilian workers, family members and other camp-followers, left Kabul on 6 January 1842. They attempted to reach the British garrison at Jalalabad, 90 miles (140 km) away, but were immediately attacked by Afghan forces. The British Officers repeatedly accepted Afghan assurances of safe passage in exchange for the surrender of their reserve arms and gunpowder and even hostages (the incompetent General Elphinstone eventually even allowed himself and the Army's Second in Command to be taken as hostages). At one point, the British were invited to tea where they were to discuss terms for allowing the British troops and camp followers to retreat safely. As soon as the British delegation arrived and dismounted their horses, they were killed. The last remnants of the entire British force was eventually annihilated near Gandamak on 13 January.

Only one British officer from the army, Assistant Surgeon William Brydon, and a few sepoys survived the retreat and reached Jalalabad. A small number of British prisoners and hostages were subsequently released.

Trusting the word of their Afghan allies resulted in the loss of 16,500 lives. 

 -Is there a lesson there? I think so.

And, no, I am not making this stuff up. It's true, it happened and somebody in our Administration ought to look it up sometime....

Live Long and Prosper....

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