The countdown to war began in the late 1830s when the British responded to the perceived threat that Russian expansion in Central Asia could pose to British rule in India. British and Indian forces occupied Afghanistan in an attempt to halt Russia's expansion in the region. However, the Afghans resented the British occupation and rebelled, triggering the war. The British expected that the Afghans would call on the Tsar for aid, which the Afghans denied, and believed there to be Russian spies at work.
Poor leadership and planning hampered the British effort. In 1842, when British-occupied Kabul was besieged, Akbar Khan, the son of the deposed Afghan ruler, negotiated an ignominious surrender for the British forces. He offered them safe passage from Kabul to Jalalabad but did not keep his end of the bargain. Of the 16,000 people who marched to Jalalabad, thousands were killed by snipers, horsemen, looters, freezing Afghan nights and daytime attacks. The First Doctor, Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright and Susan Foreman arrived in Afghanistan at the time of the siege and Ian found himself taking part in the retreat from Kabul. According to Barbara, only one man made it to Jalalabad while around fifty more people survived by allowing Khan to take them hostage. Ian and Lieutenant Symonds were among those kidnapped by the brutal Gilzai chieftain Gul Zaheer.