Third Afghan War 100th anniversary

Follow the 100th anniversary of the 1919 Third Anglo-Afghan War in real(ish) time on Twitter at @ThirdAfghanWar.

Disclaimers: I’m no expert, so some of the details may be a bit out. In particular, the reported dates of some events, especially on the Afghan side, vary between sources or are simply a bit vague. The sources used are pretty much entirely from the British perspective. Obviously things from the time might not reflect modern attitudes. Basically, don’t take it too seriously!

CIA information on the Torghundi freight terminal

Turkmen Railways locomotive at Towraghondi

In an attempt to pin down more precisely the opening date of the railway from Serhetabat in Turkmenistan to Towraghandi in Afghanistan, I had a look at some CIA documents which are now publicly available.1

Presumably the CIA would have kept a close eye on transport links to the Soviet border.

My suspicion is that the railway was extended from Kushka into Afghanistan circa 1960-1964 as part of the Soviet-backed Kuskha – Herat – Khandahar road improvement project, which was agreed by the USSR and Afghanistan on 28 May 1959.2

A July 1964 US photographic interpretation report describes Soviet military facilities at Kushka (now known as Serhetabat),3 with photos and a map of the “supply depot and rail-to-road transfer point” located “6 km southwest of Kushka at the terminus of the Mary-Kushka branch rail line, approximately 3 km from the Afghanistan border”.

1964 Central Intelligence Agency map of rail facilities at Kushka
(Map: Central Intelligence Agency, 1964)

Although the site is shown in the report as being located on the Soviet side of the Afghan border, comparing the photos, map and the latitude and longitude shows that the rail facility which is being described is almost certainly the same thing as the current Towraghondi (to pick one of many spellings!) freight terminal, which is inside Afghanistan.

1964 Central Intelligence Agency map of rail facilities at Kushka
(Map: Central Intelligence Agency, 1964)

So it looks like the railway did exist by 1964, but we now have a question as to why the 1964 CIA document put the Soviet-Afghan border further south and west of the current Turkmenistan-Afghan border. As far as I know, the border in the area has not moved since being fixed in the late 19th century, and Soviet maps such as this one from 1985 show the current border with the railway extending into Afghanistan:

Soviet map showing the railway from Kushka to Towraghondi

References

  1. Freedom of Information Act Electronic Reading Room, CIA
  2. Central Intelligence Bulletin, 29 January 1969, CIA, USA
  3. KUSHKA MILITARY AREAS KUSHKA, USSR TURKESTAN MD. Document Number (FOIA) /ESDN (CREST): CIA-RDP78B04560A002400010012-9. NATIONAL PHOTOGRAPHIC INTERPRETATION CENTER, USA

Opening of the Khyber railway

The UK’s National Army Museum has this rather good photo of The opening of the Khyber railway, 1925. Photograph by Randolph Bezzant Holmes (1888-1973), India, North West Frontier, 1925. NAM Image Number 118645.

The text says:

The Khyber Pass Railway from Jamrud, near Peshawar, to the Afghan border near Landi Kotal was opened on 4 November 1925. Built to allow easier movement of troops to the frontier, the railway climbed more than 1,200 metres (3,900 feet) through 34 tunnels and 92 bridges, and culverts to reach Landi Kotal.

Chaman, Shela Bagh and Gulistan stations in 1895

Photo taken by William Henry Jackson and published in Harper’s Weekly, 1895, now available on the Library of Congress website.

Chaman station
Railway station at Chaman, near Kojak Tunnel.

Gulistan station
Gulistan Station on the Great Military Railway.

Gulistan station
Although labelled as “Gulistan Station on the Great Military Railway, at entrance to Kojak Tunnel”, this is actually Shela Bagh station.