In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Wars in Afghanistan

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • The Great Game
  • First Anglo-Afghan War, 1839–1842
  • Second Anglo-Afghan War, 1878–1880
  • Third Anglo-Afghan War 1919 and Border Skirmishes until 1947
  • Internal Conflict, 1900–1929

Military History Wars in Afghanistan
Lester Grau
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0128


The territory and peoples of Afghanistan existed long before the designation of the area as Afghanistan. The Wars of Afghanistan begin well before the founding of an independent Afghanistan in 1747. Just as an understanding of US military history is based on an understanding of the North American colonial period, the Spanish conquests, and the French-Indian Wars, an understanding of Afghanistan’s military history begins before its foundation. The history of the pre-state period includes Alexander the Great’s difficult passage through the area, the Seleucid Dynasty, the blossoming of Bactria, the Kushan Dynasty, the Sasanian Dynasty, the Arab Conquests in Central Asia and Southern Asia, the Seljuk and Ghurid Dynasties, the Mongol Invasion, the unpleasant visit by Tamerlane, and the magnificent Moghul Empire. Some of the excellent general histories in the general overviews section address these events. For the purpose of this article, Afghanistan’s military history is confined to the period when there is a kingdom, emirate, or country known as Afghanistan.

General Overviews of the Country of Afghanistan

History, geography, religion, culture, and economics shape a nation. Before studying the military history of a country or region, an understanding of the factors and dynamics that shaped that country is important. Regional tactics are an outgrowth of geography, history, society, culture, and equipment. Consequently, descriptions of the land, terrain, peoples, economy, and culture are important in understanding warfare in that particular region. General military histories of a region are also valuable as they provide patterns, change, context, and an ordered approach to the study of warfare. Much of the early available scholarship on Afghanistan is published in English and Russian, a consequence of the Great Game played between Great Britain and the Russian Empire. Other noted scholarship is written in regional languages such as Persian, Dari, Turkic and Arabic. Turkish and German scholarship on Afghanistan are also extensive, particularly in the fields of archaeology, linguistics, and history.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.