I have been spending a lot of timing driving around the Northwest lately, and my bad habit when behind the wheel is to think about stuff I've either read or written. The latest conversation with myself was about the latest "battles" piece, the Heights of Dargai.
But you look at the two commanders at Dargai and, frankly, whoever the hell was running the show from the Afghan side comes up looking pretty damn impressive. Look at the basic tactical principles he used pretty damn brilliantly;
1. Know your troops. Know the terrain. Fit your tactics to METT-T.
He knew his most effective tactic was long-range direct fire. He knew where the key terrain was, and used it effectively . He knew that the British scheme of maneuver would make them come right at him, and positioned his troops to place the maximum effective fire on the most likely avenue of approach. When the enemy managed to cross the kill zone, he executed an effective withdrawal under pressure.
The flanking movement that the British executed on the 18th had forced the defenders off their positions overwatching the march route before they could bring effective fire to bear on the British line of march or the attackers on the saddle. The Afghan commanders' dispositions on the 20th corrected that flaw; even had the British tried the same maneuver the crest of the ridge to the west was occupied strongly enough to have, at least, cost the maneuver element heavily.
3. Know the larger strategic military and political objectives and fit your tactics to them.
The Afghan commander realized that the object of the British offensive was not to hold territory but to destroy the tribal infrastructure (that is, their houses, crops, animals, and wells) and the fighting capability of the tribe. So there was no point in dying for their country; they needed to make the other poor dumb bastards die for their country than grab a hat.
He also got that the whole point was to inflict pain to drive the enemy to the negotiating table. He inflicted that pain, and minimized his losses.
The Afghan withdrawal was well-planned and executed to the point where the British attackers had no idea how many riflemen they had been facing or how many they had hit.
Bottom line; the Afghan commander flat-out whipped the British commanders. He used his head, knew his troops, knew his enemy, and accomplished his mission.
The British also achieved their tactical objective, but at great cost - disproportionate cost for the value of the objective. That cost, paid throughout the Tirah campaign, eventually caused the British to make peace without fully "pacifying" the rebellious tribes.
I wonder how they look from the south bank of the Potomac?