In images: British troops fight tribes on Afghan border 100 years ago

War never changes: British troops march off to fight tribes on the Afghan-Indian border 100 years ago in echoes of the modern-day War on Terror

  • Waziristan campaign of 1919-1920 pitted British forces against Pashtun tribes in what was then northern India
  • Tribesmen attacked British garrisons following Anglo-Afghan War in hopes of driving occupying forces out 
  • Rebellion was subdued but the British decided to establish a permanent garrison of regular troops in the area 
  • 100 years later, around 1,000 British troops are still stationed in the region – training Afghan soldiers in Kabul 

British troops marching off to fight tribal insurgents on the Afghan border after a series of guerrilla attacks – this could be a scene from the modern-day War on Terror, except it actually comes from the Waziristan campaign fought almost 100 years ago.

The year-long conflict pitted the forces of Britain and British India against warriors of the Mahsud and Wazir Pashtun tribes in what was then northern India, but is now the federally administered tribal region of Pakistan. 

Following on from the Anglo-Afghan conflict which ended in August 1919, the Waziristan campaign – which began in November that year – saw tribesmen attempting to drive the British out in the hopes of joining a newly-autonomous Afghanistan.

Despite being fought with vastly different technology, the Waziristan conflict foreshadows much of Britain’s military actions in Afghanistan in the 21st century.

Troops from British India march through the mountainous area along the border of what was then northern India and Afghanistan. They were fighting against and insurgency by Pashtun tribal groups trying to join a newly-autonomous Afghan state, following a series of guerrilla attacks 

The Waziristan Campaign was fought for a year between 1919 and 1920, and pitted technologically superior forces of Britain and British India against the Mahsud and Waziri tribal groups, hoping to rid themselves of British rule. Here, British and Indian troops are pictured in the Waziristan region

While the Waziristan conflict was fought almost 100 years ago with very different technology, in many ways it foreshadowed the modern War on Terror. In fact, there are around 1,000 British troops currently stationed in Kabul – 160 miles from Waziristan in what is now Pakistan – training government troops to fight insurgent militias

Highlander troops dressed in full kilts and playing bagpipes lead a British march through the snow in the mountains of what is now northern Pakistan, near the Afghan border. The British lost more than 2,000 men in a year of fighting in this region after being forced to field inexperienced backup units as a result of the regular army being depleted from the First World War

Troops rest on a high-altitude plateau somewhere in the mountains along the Afghan border. Despite the majority of Pashtuns living in what is now Pakistan, the group is ethnically Afghan and maintains a significant presence there. Pashtun tribal groups also joined in the modern War on Terror

British commanders speak with tribesmen following the end of the conflict. In echoes of modern warfare in Afghanistan, Britain decided to set up a permanent regular-army garrison in the region after fighting died down in order to work with local militias to restore the peace

Troops of the regular British Army were reinforced in Waziristan by soldiers from British India, though they were largely inexperienced reserve units that had seen little deployment and were often out-fought by the more-experienced tribesmen

In fact, the British Army still has around 1,000 troops in Kabul – 160 miles from the modern-day provinces of northern and southern Waziristan – where they are training Afghan government troops to fight insurgent groups.

The Waziristan campaign traces its origins to the Anglo-Afghan war of 1919 which saw the forces of the newly-crowned Afghan ruler Amanullah invade what was then northern India, in part to distract from internecine fighting back home and establish his grip on the throne.

While the campaign ended in a tactical defeat for Amanullah, the British agreed to hand control of foreign affairs to the new ruler and recognise Afghanistan as an independent nation.

Buoyed by this success, the Mahsud and Wazir tribes – which are ethnically Afghan – launched guerrilla raids against British forces in northern India in an attempt to join their territory with Afghanistan.

While they did manage to kill more than 2,000 British troops during a year of fighting, they ultimately failed in their aim and remained under British rule until Indian independence in 1947.

The conflict was significant technologically because the British – whose battalions on the ground found themselves out-manoeuvred by more-experienced tribesmen – used the fledgling RAF to suppress their enemy.

Pashtun fighters pose with their weapons in this photograph. The photo album was uncovered by auctioneers following the death of a previous owner, though it is not clear whether they took the images themselves

Pashtun tribesmen pose with weapons in Pakistan in 2009, nine decades after the images were taken, but bearing a striking resemblance to their forefathers who fought to maintain control of the same land

Pashtun elders in Afghanistan discuss their political future in this image which was taken in 2001 – though it bears a striking resemblance to pictures taken almost nine decades earlier. This group fought in support of the Taliban during the war on terror in an attempt to drive out American forces, rather than the British

Large numbers of British Indian troops were marched up into the remote region, from the far reaches of the British Empire which was struggling to maintain control over its vast territory following the end of the First World War

Indian troops brought in to join the war effort are shown here digging snow away from a mountain road so that troops, supplied and equipment can pass through, some time between 1919 and 1920

British regular army troops pose for a unit photograph alongside two artillery pieces during the Waziristan campaign. The fight eventually ended in defeat for the Mahsud and Wazir people, who remained under British rule until Indian independence was granted in 1947

Little is known about where the photos came from or why they were taken. However, auctioneers did find them alongside a service medal and a box of Indian cigarettes, suggesting that whoever took them had a personal connection with the fighting

The conflict was technologically significant because the British – outmanoeuvred on the ground by the more-experienced tribesmen – used the newly-formed Royal Air Force to bomb villages they suspected of harbouring fighters, in echoes of modern-day drone warfare  

In echoes of the drone warfare fought in Afghanistan and Pakistan to this day, RAF bombers were used to destroy Mahsud villages to deplete their troops and sap their morale. 

The aftermath of the conflict also saw the British establish a permanent regular-army presence in the region to work closely with local militias in order to keep the peace – much like the situation in the region today. 

The photos were uncovered alongside a general service medal and an Indian cigarette box, hidden away in the home of a private owner who has since died.

The album is now up for sale with auction house Lacy, Scott and Knight. 

Auctioneer Glenn Pearl said: ‘This is an early 20th century photograph album the contents being mainly Waziristan campaign examples showing various camps, marches and manoeuvres.

‘It came to us from a deceased estate from which we are also selling a general service medal and an Indian cigarette box.

‘You can’t say for certain but it is possible the vendor’s relative may have had links with the conflict.

‘Waziristan is a forgotten campaign, probably because it followed just after World War One.

‘It is fascinating to see the sheer amount of troops and the hostile terrain they faced in these previously unseen images.’ 

While the nature of the conflict might mirror the modern-day fighting in Afghanistan, the weapons of war were significantly different – single-shot rifles, troops on horseback, and horse-drawn carriages were all commonplace

A mule kitted out with all of the equipment required to haul an artillery piece is pictured in the Waziristan region some time between 1919 and 1920

Motorised vehicles, which had been used by the British to great effect during the First World War, were also deployed on the battlefields of Waziristan to help put down the tribal revolt

British officers sit in what appears to be a Sunbeam Tourer, what was then a state-of-the-art vehicle made in the Midlands with an engine capable of producing up to 30 horsepower

Indian units fighting alongside the regular British Army line up along a trench, deploying tactics learned during the First World War to the battlefields of what was then northern India, in modern-day Pakistan

British soldiers march across the mountainous landscape of northern India – modern-day Pakistan – during the Waziristan campaign which lasted from November 1919 until December the following year

Wazir and Mahsud tribes attempted to join newly-autonomous Afghanistan, just a few hundred miles to the west, by staging guerrilla attacks against British forces, but were unsuccessful

A train carrying British troops leaves Kalabagh, a town on the Indus River around 100 miles from Waziristan. The majority of these railways were built by the British after conquering India

Source: Read Full Article