CHAPTER I: THE FIRST CAMPAIGN
Early next morning offensive operations were about to be resumed, when a young officer of the 9th Lancers brought intelligence that the Afghan garrison had fled under cover of night, whereupon the fort was promptly occupied. The turning brigades had been delayed by the difficult country encountered, but detachments from both had reached Kata Kustia in time to capture several hundred fugitives of the Ali Musjid garrison. The mass of it, however - its total strength was about 4000 men - effected a retreat by the Peshbolak track from the right of the entrenched position. Sir Sam Browne's advance to Dakka was made without molestation, and on 20th December he encamped on the plain of Jellalabad, where he remained throughout the winter, Maude's reserve division keeping open his communications through the Khyber Pass. The hill tribes, true to their nature, gave great annoyance by their continual raids, and several punitive expeditions were sent against them from time to time, but seldom with decisive results. The tribesmen for the most part carried off into the hills their moveable effects, and the destruction of their petty forts apparently gave them little concern. For the most part they maintained their irreconcilable attitude, hanging on the flanks of our detachments on their return march through the lateral passes to their camps, and inflicting irritating if not very severe losses. Occasionally they thought proper to make nominal submission with tongue in cheek, breaking out again when opportunity or temptation presented itself. Detailed description of those raids and counter-raids would be very tedious reading. It was when starting to co-operate in one of those necessary but tantalising expeditions that a number of troopers of the 10th Hussars were drowned in a treacherous ford of the Cabul river near Jellalabad.
General Roberts, to whom the conduct of operations in the Kuram district had been entrusted, crossed the frontier on November 21st, and marched up the valley with great expedition. The inhabitants evinced friendliness, bringing in live stock and provisions for sale. Reaching Habib Killa on the morning of the 28th, he received a report that the Afghan force which he knew to be opposed to him had abandoned its guns on the hither side of the Peiwar Kotul, and was retreating in confusion over that summit. Roberts promptly pushed forward in two columns. Building on the erroneous information that the enemy were in a hollow trying to withdraw their guns - in reality they were already in their entrenched position on the summit of the Kotul - he ordered Cobbe's (the left) column to turn the right of the supposed Afghan position, and debar the enemy from the Kotul, while the other column (Thelwall's) was ordered to attack in front, the object being to have the enemy between two fires. Cobbe's leading regiment near the village of Turrai found its advance blocked by precipices, and a withdrawal was ordered, the advantage having been attained of forcing the enemy to disclose the position which he was holding. Further reconnaissances proved that the Afghan line of defence extended along the crest of a lofty and broken mountainous range from the Spingawai summit on the left to the Peiwar Kotul on the right centre, the right itself resting on commanding elevations a mile further south. The position had a front in all of about four miles. It was afterwards ascertained to have been held by about 3500 regulars and a large number of tribal irregulars. General Roberts' force numbered about 3100 men.
His scheme of operations he explained to his commanding officers on the evening of December 1st. With the bulk of the force he himself was to make a circuitous night march by his right on the Spingawai Kotul, with the object of turning that position and taking the main Afghan position on the Peiwar Kotul in reverse; while Brigadier Cobbe, with whom were to remain the 8th (Queen's) and 5th Punjaub Infantry regiments, a cavalry regiment and six guns, was instructed to assail the enemy's centre when the result of the flank attack on his left should have made itself apparent.