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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 57

Force Required to Defend, or to Depend and Hold, Afghánistán

Force Required to Defend, or to Depend and Hold, Afghánistán.

The force required to operate in Afghánistán must be decided greatly by the resources of the country and the force that the enemy can bring into each zone:—It is to be borne in mind that to give a man 1 ½ lb. of bread daily for one year requires but one additional acre of average land to be sown with wheat. Sheep abound in various parts of the country. Russian soldiers need little beyond 1 ½ lb. of bread and 1 lb. of meat daily.

Right Zone (defensive).

The main hill roads penetratsing this zone from Afghán-Turkistán, exclusive of those viâ Chitrál and Gilgit, are four in number; two of these verge into one at Bamian.

Supposing 7,500 troops to advance by each—a hazardous operation considering the want of intercommunication between them, and only to be attempted against an Asiatic foe—30,000 men is the greatest force of the first advance that need be met, if met in time, and but a proportion of these could come into the fighting line.

If the passes over the Hindú Kush are ill-defended and troops be allowed to debouch from them, they become open to the passage of successive bodies, and the number that may be concentrated at Kábal is determined only by what the country can support by its own resources and what the transport can bring up from the base, say:—
Supported by local resources 60,000
Supported from base 20,000
Total 80,000, inclusive of camp followers.
page 18

The first case only will be considered, for to allow 50,000 Russian troops to concentrate about Kábal is tantamount to giving them the province in perpetuity.

To meet the first case 30,000 troops will err on the side of safety, 15,000 being pushed forward to defend the passes and 15,000 held in reserve, in bodies of 5,000, in prepared positions to the rear, ready to aid any of the advanced parties compelled to retire and to block all egress.

To take the initiative 10,000 of this reserve could be pushed through the hills, should the satisfactory progress in the Southern Zone render it advisable.

With the Afgháns friendly, 10,000 of the 30,000 might be Afghán troops, the remaining 20,000 British, one-half European, one-half Indian.

With the Afgháns unwilling to allow us liberty of action, about 30,000 more British troops would be required in this zone.

Total number of British troops to operate in the Northern Zone:—
Afgháns friendly 20,000
Afgháns unfriendly 60,000

Supplies for the larger number can be drawn from the district with arrangement and the opening of the country to the rear.

In the first case 10,000 Afghán troops are considered to be available.

Central Zone (defensive).

Ghazni, an outpost to both Kábal and Kandahár, is situated in a well supplied district 90 miles from Kábal and 230 miles from Kandahár: it aids to block both the Kábal and Kandahár routes to India by taking them in flank; an easy communication by the Gomal, as yot unopened, connects it with Dera Ismail Khán, and another equally easy and, also as yet unopened, viâ the Tochi river, connects it with Banú; the latter is about 150 and the former about 290 miles long; another route, partially opened, leads into the Kuram Valley.

But these lines of communication are vulnerable unless Kábal and Kandahár are held; it results, therefore, that it cannot stand alone.

Taking Ghazni as the point d'appui of this zone no roads penetrate it that have not been allowed for in considering the Northern Zone, or that do not come under the influence of the Southern Zone: it will suffice therefore to station there a reserve of 5,000 troops for convenience of supply and to meet surprises, and this number will suffice whether the Afgháns be with us or against us, for it can be readily reinforced from Kábal and viâ the Gomal and Tochi passes direct from India.

In the Northern Zone and still more so in the Central Zone the narrowness and difficulty of the roads limit the extent of the fighting front, but to no very great extent the power of concentrating troops, for bodies of 8 to 10,000 men with mule carriage could move along them 10 miles daily each day, the tail of the column closing upon and camping with its head. To prevent concentration the hill passes must be defended and their debouches occupied.

The barrier of mountains and the difficulties of roads in the Northern and Central Zones take the place of living defenders: give them up, and the only recourse is to substitute for them a barrier of men. Britain having now to take her place as a military nation, whose borders closely touch those of one of the greatest, most despotic, and most unscrupulous of powers, it becomes of paramount importance to enlist on her side all such physical difficulties of page 19 ground so that security may be obtained at the least cost of men, money, and defensive works.

Southern Zone (offensive).

The Kandahár Province will feed an army of 30,000 men including camp followers with its train of baggage animals, at present. In has been shown elsewhere that on a moderate estimate the Herát Province, when its resources are but fairly developed, can feed an army of 80 to 90,000 men, and that supplies can be drawn from Sístán and Khorásán for from 20,000 to 30,000 men in addition. Neglecting the latter source of supply and allowing that the Herát Province can at present feed only 45,000 men, and that food for 5,000 more can be drawn from the country between Girishk and Farah, 80,000 men including camp followers with their attendant train of baggage animals can be fed in this zone.

The number of troops that the Russians could bring into the zone of operations depends only upon the amount of transport that they have available and its nature and time.

With a completed system of railways to Askábád and the vicinity of Sarrakhs only, she could put into the field a less number than we can at present, for her treasury is poor, and she has only Turkistán and Transcaspia to draw upon for baggage animals, whilst our treasury is comparatively rich, and we can draw transport from the whole of India, coast of Arabia, &c. But she can reach the goal of Herát in less time. A railway to Sístán alone would save Herát; but unfortunately it does not exist.

Taking into consideration our greater transport capabilities, it may be assumed that we could concentrate at Farah troops in numbers equal to what Russia could concentrate at Herát, the Afgháns resisting her progress to the best of their feeble power.

Farah from Quetta is distant 370
Sarrakhs from Herát is distant 210
To do this, our transport must be about double what the Russians have

1st objective; Farah.

at their disposal, as we have nigh double the distance to traverse. Our forces would then be 160 miles apart, and we should have secured Farah and Sístán, an enormous advantage, and be in a position in which we could wait until the construction of the line of rails to Sístán should enable us to operate against Herát.

The Russians would be in an equally bad case and unable to advance south of Herát city, and must themselves wait the collection of supplies and the completion of railway communication with their base.

Upon the completion of the above important strategic line of communications, whatever number of men the Russians could

2nd objective; Herát.

bring into the field the resources of the British empire would have to meet. Concentration in sufficient numbers then becomes a possibility: without it, it is next to an impossibility. To hold the province of Kandahár with the Afgháns friendly would require a garrison between Kandahár and Girishk of 15,000 men, of which 5,000 could be pushed into the hills to block the hill road from Daulat-Yár: of these half might be Afghan troops. With the Afgháns against us 20,000 British troops would be required in addition to the Farah field army, a variable quantity depending upon the strength of the Russian forces invading the Herát Province.
page 20

To sum up for the defence of India, by operating actively in Afghánistán it is calculated that the following troops are required:—

With the Afgháns friendly—

Men. Men. Northern Zone ... ... ... ... 30,000 Central Zone ... ... ... ... 5,000 southern Zone ...(number equal to what Russia can put into the field, say at present ... 45,000 To hold the Kandahár Province ... ... ... 15,000 95,000 Of these, the following might be Afghán troops— Northern Zone ... ... ... ... 10,000) Central Zone ... ... ... ... Nil) Southern Zone ... ... ... ... 7,500) 17,500 leaving 40,000 regular Afghán troops to defend Afghán-Turkestán, &c. With the Afgháns unwilling that we should enter their country— Northern Zone ... ... ... ... 60,000 Central Zone ... ... ... ... 5,000 Southern Zone ... (number equal to what Russia can put into the field, say at present ... 45,000 To hold the Kandahar Province ... ... ... 20,000 1,30,000

Or in the first case, in round numbers, 80,000 men, and in the latter 130,000 men, will be required at present to defend India—a very moderate number, consi-dering the efficiency of the defence given, and the less number of troops that would under the then existing circumstances be required to garrison India; a number which owes its smallness to the very defensible nature of the Hindú Kush. Moderate as they are, they err on the side of safety, and show that at the most we require to defend India, if her administrative limits are stretched to their geographical and natural limits, 20,000 more British and 20,000 more Indian troops. It would seem extremely hazardous to put off the immediate recruitment of this number.

The troops required for the active defence numbering 130,000
Putting the Indian garrison at 100,000

230,000 men is the total number required during peace, the reserves being stationed in Great Britain and India in numbers sufficient to meet whatever number over 45,000 Russia can put into the field in the Southern Zone.

Of the 100,000 put down as the Indian garrison, a considerable number might be kept in immediate reserve in occupation of the frontier posts of Pesháwar, Kohát, Banú, &c., and in Peshín. The flower of the armies of the Native Princes should be actively employed out of India, thus removing to a distance a possible source of embarrassment.

Supposing, as would appear to be the case, that the difficulties of the Hazára hills and the country to the north of Kábal have been very greatly exaggerated, that the passes instead of being few are numerous and easy, that supplies of grain, fodder, and firewood are fairly plentiful, the difficulties of the defence of the Kábal Province increase and a proportionately greater number page 21 of troops must be retained there, and railways must be constructed from Kábal radiating outwards to facilitate the concentration of troops to oppose advances from the directions most favourable to them.

The only thing certain about these hills is that the Safíd Kúh (snowy range) is a considerable obstacle; as for the rest of this little known country, it is certain also that it is more open, less snow blocked, more fertile, and less difficult to traverse than has hitherto been supposed.

As before stated, in each zone, the country unoccupied by British forces is supposed to be efficiently defended by Afgháns. Should this latter defence give way, it has been shown that to operate actively in the Southern Zone becomes no longer possible, the position in Peshín untenable, and the necessity to supplement the Afghán defence in the Central and Northern Zones imperative.

The possibility or the likelihood of the pure Afghán defence being efficient is so problematical that the idea becomes altogether visionary when soberly considered; consequently the restriction of operations to the Southern Zone, in case of operations becoming necessary, is so tantamount to an impossibility as to be almost unworthy of serious consideration.

In the above calculations the pure Afghán defence has been omitted, and the Afgháns are considered to be co-operating with us, under British command, to a limited degree, or to be in part hostile, and to be coerced to our will and service by British and Indian troops and levies of Hazáras, Kizilbash, Baluches, &c.

To estimate roughly the number of men required to bold a defensive line behind the Indus and the advanced bastion of Peshín, it is necessary to consider the force that can be brought against it.

The figures already given are to the effect that the Kábal Province can now support an army of 60,000
Kandahár Province can now support an army of 30,000
Herat Province 50,000
Afghán-Turkistán 50,000

This estimate is a very moderate one. Afghánistán lies between 30° and 38° 20′ N. lat. and 60° 30′ and 7-1° 30′ E. long., and may be assumed to have an area of 500,000 square miles: giving it on an average a population of 10 souls or two families per square mile (a moderate estimate., its total population equals 5,000,000 souls, or 1,000,000 families.

It is quite possible that the average population per square mile does not fall much short, of 20, or double that assumed for the purposes of this paper.

In eastern countries, such as Persia and Afghánistán, it is no hardship for each group of five families to furnish one fighting man to serve in the so-called army; indeed, the report is that the Amír has recently called upon the Ghilzis to furnish one man per three families, and that that number will be forthcoming. It may be therefore assumed that any strong ruler possessed of the means of paying them could raise and equip in Afghínistín a very efficient army of 200,000 men of a better fighting class than the ordinary dwellers in the plains of India. In the enlistment of such levies there is great advantage. It renders more easy the subjugation and final pacification of the country without loss of manliness on the part of its inhabitants; all troublesome men try to deserve and obtain service.

page 22

Again, when we consider the numbers that would be reclaimed from a nomad to an agricultural life, under a settled rule, the produce of the country, it may be confidently assumed, could be easily improved to support an additional of five percent, to its present population within five years, and ten per cent. within ten years. This is only an addition in the first case of one man to four families, and in the latter one man to two families—a most moderate estimate which would no doubt be more than doubled in reality. Thus, within five years, the country could, at the most moderate computation, bear the burden of supporting 250,000 Cossacks and Russians, and within ten years 500,000. The latter figures require but 500,000 additional acres or 100 square miles, 1/5000th. of its area, of average land to be sown with wheat. In our Indus Frontier plains (Banú district), the cultivation doubled itself in the first 30 years after settlement.

These figures then give that the country could now support an army of 190,000 men, and that within ten years 500,000 men additional might be stationed in it without looking beyond its borders for food; and that Afghánistán can be drawn upon for an army of 200,000 men (of whom half only need be Afgháns) without causing any stoppage to trade or agriculture, or giving anything but intense satisfaction to the country, if the men drawn for military service are properly paid. Allowing two-thirds of the additional population fed to be soldiers, the army that might be raised and concentrated within ten years and fed in Afghánistán for operations in India may be reckoned to be:—
Russian troops 2/3rds of 690,000 =460,000
Afghán troops 200,000
Total 660,000

It is left for others to say whether India could be defended with any less number, considering that they would overlook her borders and occupy the passes up to the very works blocking them on the further side.

The success of the defence must ever depend on the proportion that exists between the means and forces at its disposal and the ability with which they are employed, to the means, forces, and ability of the attack.

The troubles that must necessarily arise in India from a Russian occupation of Afghán-Turkistán is not considered, although the dangers arising from it will be great and costly to counteract; the requirements of a military frontier alone, giving the greatest security, have been sought. The political question, too, is left untouched, as it would be presumptuous to discuss it offhand, and quite needless to do so; for when military considerations are of paramount importance, diplomacy must play a helping part and work only to the attainment of the military aim, or its end must be ruin.

The disadvantages of the line of the Hindú Kush as the defence of India are said to be—
(i)its extent;
(ii)its distance from India.

(i) The extent of frontier to be defended between Faizábád and Herát is roughly 600 miles. The frontier from Pesháwar to the Khojak is roughly the same. But, in the former case, the real fighting front extends from the neighbourhood of Kábal to that of Kandahár, a distance of about 350 miles, the greater part of which is covered by hills, the main passes through which page 23 it is only necessary to hold; and, in the latter, the whole 600 miles of frontier line must be held, because of its vulnerability.

The essential differences between the defence of the one and the other are that in the former case the defence is conducted from the proper side of the passes and not the wrong, that the hills are deep and penetrated by a few and difficult roads for three months closed by snow, all of which lead into the Kábal valley, where their outlets can be blocked by one field army and a very economical expenditure of force.

In the latter case the defence is conducted from the wrong side of the passes (see ante); the barrier of hills is passable at many points each one of which can be securely blocked by the expenditure of troops used uneconomically only and behind the narrow rugged screen of which many elevated plateaux and valleys exist which are favourable to the movement of troops and their concentration, after due preparation of roads and depôts.

(ii) The distance of Kábal from India, about which place only would troops be concentrated, is 175 miles. The line of the Khyber offers no difficulties to the laying of a line of rails along it. Nor do the Gomal and Tochi passes in all likelihood. Bamian is distant from it 107 miles and Ghazni 90 miles. Holding these three points in force with posts pushed out along the roads already referred to, i.e., to Khinjan and into the Besúd, Deh-i-Zangi, and Deh-i-Kundi, Hazára district, the defence of the Northern Zone, that is the defence of the whole line of the Hindú Kush and its western spurs, is assured. The troops required have already been calculated at 30 to 60,000; in the former case acting with the Afgháns, in the latter in opposition to their wishes.

There is ever a great fascination in the "idea" of fighting nearer home, but unfortunately the above study proves the idea to be a very baseless vision, extremely dangerous to entertain and to act upon which would be to court disaster; indeed, its fascination vanishes when its dangerous tendency is shown.

The Indus As A Frontier Line.

Streams generally are less valuable as a defence than mountains, as they fall by one defeat and allow of no after defence, as in the case of mountains; all direct defence of rivers resolves itself into a defence by posts, the most dangerous of all defence and least to be trusted to. An indirect defence can never stand before "superior numbers" which must eventually make themselves felt, and it has been demonstrated that these numbers may be swelled to 700,000 men after ten years of peaceful occupation of Afghánistán.

Summary Of Conclusions Arrived At.

(i) Afghánistán (including in this term the border tribes), as she at present exists, is a perfect defence to India.

(ii) In contact with Russia, or if permeated by Russian influence, Afghánistán is no longer a defence, but a danger to India. The Hazáras would prefer a Russian rule to an Afghán domination, and so would all other tribes alien to the Afghán race. All the hill passes into the Kandahár and Kábal districts would then pass into Russia's hands, and, with them, the possibility of successfully invading those Provinces—a possibility at all hazards to be prevented.

(iii) But, inasmuch as the existence of Afghánistán, as a nation, is impossible between two civilized powers, and the British and Russian boundaries page 24 must touch eventually—in ease of a division of it with Russia, what is the very utmost that can be relinquished to her, provided we are not bold enough to strike for the whole?

The answer to this question has been shown to be that:—

The Hindú Kush must be secured to India with its western spurs and its northern and western skirts including those of the Paropamisus; the Herát Province intact, if possible, and if not possible its districts of Sabzawár and Farah at least. The possession of these southern districts secures Sístán, prevents any further southern expansion, and they form a point d'appui for the offensive towards the north and a watch tower whence to guard the integrity of Persia. They take in Hanks any movement, from Herát through the Hazára Hills, although not completely preventing such a movement. If the walls of Herát were razed the security of the position would be enhanced greatly, if it be impossible for us to occupy it ourselves:

(v) With any other portion, or portions of Afghánistán in Russia's hands, the defence of India is endangered more or less; the danger in each case has been considered.

(vi) With the Hindú Kush as a frontier the fighting front is contracted from 600 to 350 miles and the immediate security of the Indian empire is ensured by a garrison (inclusive of India) of 230,000 men. The reserves to this force, to be stationed in Great Britain, must depend upon the forces of Russia capable of being brought to operate on the line Herát-Kandahár.

With the Indus as a frontier or the skirts of the Suleimán range, India must keep up a garrison capable of counteracting a power that can put into Afghánistán and feed there an army of about 700,000 men, should she desire to do so.

(vii) Finally that, with the acquisition of Afghánistán, Russia will have cracked the Eastern nut, and it will be in her power to break it into pieces and appropriate its contents whenever it may suit her to do so.

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