Invasions of Afghanistan

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Afghanistan is a mountainous landlocked country in Central Asia and South Asia.[1][2] The Afghanistan area has been invaded many times in recorded history, but no invader has been able to control all of its regions at the same time,[citation needed] and at some point faced rebellion.[citation needed] Some of the invaders in the history of Afghanistan include the Maurya Empire of ancient India, Alexander the Great of Macedon, Umar, an Arab Caliphate, Genghis Khan of Mongolia, Timur of Persia and Central Asia, the Mughal Empire of India, various Persian Empires, the British Empire, the Sikh Empire, the Soviet Union, and most recently a coalition force of NATO troops, the majority from the United States, which entered the country in the first-ever invocation of NATO's Article 5 "an attack on one is an attack on all" following the September 11 attacks in the United States. The country is now entitled the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and has a democratically-elected government. A reduced number of NATO troops remain in the country in support of the government under the U.S.–Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement.


From a geopolitical sense, controlling Afghanistan is vital in controlling the rest of Southern Asia, or getting a passage through Central Asia, reflecting its geographic position in the region. Afghanistan played an important part in the Great Game power struggles. Historically, the conquest of Afghanistan has also played an important role in the invasion of India from the west through the Khyber Pass.


Persian Conquests[edit]

While relatively little detail is known, parts of the region of nowadays Afghanistan came under rule of the Median kingdom for a short time.

Afghanistan partially fell to the Achaemenid Empire after it was conquered by Darius I of Persia. The area was divided into several provinces called satrapies, which were each ruled by a governor, or satrap. These ancient satrapies included: Aria (Herat); Arachosia (Kandahar, Lashkar Gah, Bamiyan and Quetta); Bactriana (Balkh); Sattagydia (Ghazni); and Gandhara (Kabul, Jalalabad, Peshawar).

Greek Conquest and Kushan Invasions[edit]

Alexander the Great invaded what is today Afghanistan in 330 BC as part of war against Persia. Comprising the easternmost satrapies of Persia, Afghanistan provided some challenging battles in his conquest of the remaining lands of Persia. Renamed Bactria, and settled with his Ionian veterans, Alexander began his invasion of India from what is now Jalalabad, attacking the Indus River basin through the Khyber Pass. Several cities in Afghanistan are named for Alexander, including Alexandria Arachosia, now called Kandahar (a contraction of Iskandahar). Following the death of Alexander and the partition of his kingdom, the Province of Bactria was under the rule of Alexander's former general, Seleucus, who now formed the Seleucid Dynasty, with its capital in Babylon. But the Greek Soldiers in Bactria, based on the remoteness of their territory, declared independence, defeated Seleucid armies sent to reconquer them, and founded the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, which lasted for more than three centuries in Afghanistan, and western India. This Greek Kingdom called Bactria carried on Greek culture while completely cut off from Europe for three centuries. One of the cities, Ai-Khanoum was excavated in 1970s, showing a complete Greek city with an acropolis, amphitheater, temples, and numerous statues. Greeks of Bactria transmitted the art of sculpting human likeness to India and the Far East. Bactrian King Menander I converted to Buddhism after staging multiple theological and philosophical debates between his Greek priests and Indian Buddhist monks. Menander I is remembered in Buddhist Sutras as "King Milinda of the Yunani." The Ionian origin of the Greek veterans who settled Bactria is remembered to this day by the Afghan word for Greeks, which is "Ionani." Bactrian Greeks left a legacy of coinage, architecture, and Buddhist art, which comprised the Ghandara culture, especially the Greco-Buddhist Art affecting all of East Asia to this day. The last Greek Kingdom in Afghanistan was conquered by the Kushan invaders in the first century AD, a full three centuries after Alexander. But Greek language continued to be used by the Kushans in their coinage for the next several centuries.

Conquest by Arab Caliphate[edit]

In the seventh to ninth centuries, following the disintegration of the Sassanid Persian Empire and Roman Empire, leaders in the world theatre for the last four centuries and archrivals, the area was again invaded from the west, this time by Umar, second Caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate, in the Islamic conquest of Afghanistan, eventually resulting in the conversion of most of its inhabitants to Islam. This was one of many Muslim conquests following the establishment of a unified state in the Arabian Peninsula by the prophet Muhammad. At its height, Muslim control - during the period of the Umayyad Caliphate - extended from the borders of China to the Iberian Peninsula (modern day Spain and Portugal), the Middle East, North Africa, parts of southern Europe, parts of south East Europe, parts of central Asia, and parts of South Asia.

Mongol Empire[edit]

In the Mongol invasion of Khwarezmia (1219-1221), Genghis Khan invaded the region from the northeast in one of his many conquests to create the huge Mongol Empire. His armies slaughtered thousands in the cities of Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad etc. After Genghis Khan returned to Mongolia, there was a rebellion in the region of Helmand which was brutally put down by his son and successor, Ogedei Khan, who put all male residents of Ghazni and Helmand to the sword in 1222; the women were enslaved and sold. Thereafter most parts of Afghanistan other than the extreme south-eastern remained under Mongol rule as part of the Ilkhanate and Chagatai Khanate.

The Hazara people claim to be descendants of the Mongol invaders, though this is disputed as the first mention of Hazara people is made by Babur in the 16th century.[3] The Hazara constitute the majority of Shia adherents in Afghanistan today. Additionally, many areas of Afghanistan are named after Mongol leaders, including Band-e-Timur (meaning "Timur's block") in Maywand District in Kandahar Province, the only district never taken from the Taliban throughout the western intervention of the 21st century, Jaghatu District (named in honor of Chagatai) in Wardak Province, and the village of Wech Baghtu in Shah Wali Kot District, named after Batu.[4]

Conquest by Tamerlane (Timur) and Mughal Empire[edit]

From 1383 to 1385, the Afghanistan area was conquered from the north by Timur, leader of neighboring Transoxiana (roughly modern-day Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and adjacent areas), and became a part of the Timurid Empire. Timur was from a Turko-Mongol tribe and although a Muslim, saw himself more as an heir of Genghis Khan. Timur's armies caused great devastation and are estimated to have caused the deaths of 17 million people. He brought great destruction on Afghanistan's south, slaughtering thousands and enslaving an equal number of women. Allied with the Uzbeks, Hazaras and other Turkic communities in the north his dominance over Afghanistan was long-lasting, allowing him for his future successful conquests in Central Anatolia against the Ottomans.[5]

In the next period,[clarification needed] many of the Eastern and Southern parts of Afghanistan came under rule of various dynasties based in other parts of South Asia, such as by the Delhi Sultanate. After the slow disintegration of the Timurid Empire in 1506, the Mughal Empire was later established in Afghanistan,[non sequitur]Pakistan, and India by Babur in 1526, who was a descendant of Timur through his father and possibly a descendant of Genghis Khan through his mother. By the 17th century, the Mughal Empire ruled most of India, but later declined during the 18th century.

The Sikh Empire invasion, 1837-1838[edit]

In the early 1837 the Battle of Jamrud was fought between the Sikhs under Maharajah Ranjit Singh and the Afghans under Emir Dost Muhammad Khan. Since the consolidation of the Sikh Empire in Punjab, Maharajah Ranjit Singh had turned the wave of invasions on Afghanistan. The Afghans had been losing their long held territories to Sikhs over the preceding years due to internal conflicts, and had seen their once mighty empire shrink with the loss of the Punjab region, Multan, Kashmir, Derajat, Hazara and Peshawar.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh availed himself of anarchy in Kabul and made as invasion of Peshawar, the South-West-Eastern frontiers of Peshawar with Punjab having been neglected by Sultan Yar Mohammed Khan and Dost Mohammad Khan, the then Afghan governors of Peshawar who found themselves helpless and vacated the city. Punjabi forces with Mian Ghausa and Diwan Mohkam Chand leading the charge With Sardar Hari Singh Nalua as general of Cavalry didn't had to face any fight what so ever. Maharaja appointed Jahan Dad Khan, ex governor of Attock as new governor of Peshawar in November 1838.

British invasions: 1838-1842, 1878-1880 and 1919[edit]

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Afghanistan was invaded three times from British India.

The First Anglo-Afghan War of 1838–1842 was conducted with the intention of limiting Russian influence in the country and quelling raiding from across the border. Within four years the British were expelled. After the Indian Mutiny, the British launched a second invasion, the Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878–1880, for much the same reasons but did not attempt to maintain a permanent presence. A third conflict broke out in 1919. It last for three months, from May to August, and ended in a compromise that saw Afghanistan reassert its independence and control over its relations with other countries while agreeing to a border with British India known as the Durand Line.

Soviet invasion, December 1979[edit]

The Soviet Union, along with other countries, was a direct supporter of the new Afghan government after the Saur Revolution in April 1978. However, Soviet-style reforms introduced by the government such as changes in marriage customs and land reform were not received well by a population deeply immersed in tradition and Islam.[6] By 1979, fighting between the Afghan government and various other factions within the country, some of which were supported by the United States and other countries, led to a virtual civil war and in a phone call to the Kremlin in March 1979 Afghan prime minister Nur Muhammad Taraki requested military assistance. This was refused by Soviet prime minister Alexei Kosygin on behalf of the Politburo.[7]

After Taraki was murdered the new Afghan Prime Minister Hafizullah Amin repeated requests for Soviet military support, at least to protect his residence. Finally, in December the Politburo decided to deal with the situation in Afghanistan,[8] and in early December sent special forces which attacked Amin's palace and killed him, putting the exiled Babrak Kamal in his place. These forces were subsequently reinforced by the 40th Army which entered Afghanistan on 24 December 1979. As the Kremlin foresaw, this intervention would cause problems around the world for the USSR, with the policy of detente and, not least, at the forthcoming Olympic Games due to take place in summer 1980 in Moscow.[9] The result was a far-reaching boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, supported not only by the United States but by many of the 65 other invited countries that did not take part.

At its greatest extent the Soviet military contingent in Afghanistan numbered 100,000 personnel. This presence remained for a decade and kickstarted U.S. and Saudi funding for Islamic Mujahideen groups opposed to both the Afghan government and the Soviet military presence. The local Mujahideen, along with fighters from several different Arab nations (Pathan tribes from across the border also participated in the war; they were supported by the Pakistani ISI), fought the Soviet forces to a standstill. On 24 January 1989 Gorbachev's Politburo took the decision to withdraw most of the Soviet forces,[10] while continuing to provide military assistance to the Afghan government.[11] Eventually, in-fighting within the Mujahideen led to the rise of warlords in Afghanistan, and from them emerged the Taliban.[12] The Soviets left behind the only highway in the country as well as many concrete structures built in the major cities, and airfields that are still in use (e.g. at Bagram).

Invasion by the United States and NATO, October 2001[edit]

U.S. Army soldiers prepare a Humvee to be sling-loaded by a CH-47 Chinook helicopter in Bagram on July 24, 2004.

On October 7, 2001 the United States, supported by some NATO countries including the United Kingdom and Australia, as well as other allies, began an invasion of Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom. The invasion was launched to capture Osama bin Laden, who was accused of the September 11, 2001 attacks. The US military forces did not capture him, though they toppled the Taliban government and disrupted bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network. The Taliban government had given shelter to Bin Laden. On May 2, 2011, bin Laden was shot and killed by United States Armed Forces in Pakistan. The Taliban leadership survives in hiding throughout Afghanistan, largely in the southeast, and continues to launch guerrilla attacks against forces of the United States, its allies, and the current government of President Ashraf Ghani.

In 2006, the US forces turned over security of the country to NATO-deployed forces in the region, integrating 12,000 of their 20,000 soldiers with NATO's 20,000. The remainder of the US forces continued to search for Al-Qaeda militants. The Canadian military assumed leadership and almost immediately began an offensive against areas where the Taliban guerrillas had encroached. At the cost of a few dozen of their own soldiers, the British, American, and Canadian Forces managed to kill over 1,000 alleged Taliban insurgents and sent thousands more into retreat. Many of the surviving insurgents, however, began to regroup and further clashes are expected by both NATO and Afghan National Army commanders.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Composition of macro geographical (continental) regions, geographical sub-regions, and selected economic and other groupings". UNdata. 26 April 2011. Archived from the original on 13 July 2011. Retrieved 13 July 2011.
  2. ^ "Afghanistan". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on 25 February 2010. Retrieved 17 March 2010.
  3. ^ "HAZĀRA: ii. HISTORY". Alessandro Monsutti (Online ed.). United States: Encyclopædia Iranica. December 15, 2003. Retrieved 9 August 2012.
  4. ^ Tareekh e Afghanistan - Usman Barakzai
  5. ^ Tareekh e Afghanistan - Usman Barakzai
  6. ^ See Wilson Center, International History declassified: The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
  7. ^ Bukovsky Archive 18 March 1979 (No. 242) transcript of Kosygin phone conversation with Taraki.
  8. ^ Bukovsky Archive 6 December 1979 (Pb 176/82). Decision in response to KGB and General Staff advice.
  9. ^ Bukovsky Archive 28 January 1980 (Pb 181/34) Protecting Soviet interests worldwide.
  10. ^ The Wilson Center Digital Archive: "Measures in connection with the upcoming withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan" Politburo minute, 24 January 1989 (Pb 146/VI).
  11. ^ Bukovsky Archive 21 March 1990 (No. 318/2/0354) Ministry of Defence to Central Committee.
  12. ^ Nushin Arbabzadah, "The 1980s mujahideen, the Taliban and the shifting idea of jihad", The Guardian, 28 April 2011 (Comment is Free).