Battle of Kandahar, 1507

The battle of Kandahar (1507) was a victory won by Babur against forces that he had being expecting to serve as his allies against the Uzbek conqueror Muhammad Shaibani Khan. Until earlier in 1507 members of Babur's Timurid dynasty had ruled Khorasan from their capital of Herat, but the joint rulers of the city had been defeated and expelled from the city in a rapid campaign that left Babur as the only remaining Timurid prince.

Babur was not the only ruler to be threatened by Shaibani. Zu'n-nun Arghun, the governor of Kandahar, had been killed while attempting to defend Herat, and had been succeeded by his sons, Shah Beg Arghun and Muqim Beg Arghun. Babur and the Arghuns had clashed in the past - Babur had expelled Muqim from Kabul in 1504, and they had clashed again at Qalat in 1505 - but the threat from Shaibani was so serious that the brothers now wrote to Babur asking for his help. He in turn believed that the crisis was serious enough to put aside the former hostility, and agreed to march to their aid.

As Babur came closer to Kandahar the Arghun brothers began to change their tone, either because they were close to coming to terms with Shaibani or because they were increasingly worried that they would be dominated by Babur. Despite his potential allies' change of heart, Babur continued to advance towards Kandahar, but now in the expectation of having to fight a battle.

The battle came on the day that Babur arrived outside Kandahar. Shah Beg and Muqim were positioned in some woods just outside the city as Babur's men advanced. After a small skirmish Babur continued on around the foot of the hill of Kandahar, hoping to find a better place to fight than amongst the suburbs and trees on the outskirts of the city. Eventually Babur found a good camping ground, and his men began to scatter to find supplies, presumably assuming that the Arghuns would not seek an immediate battle.

Babur's men were mistaken. As they spread out the enemy was approaching. A scout gave Babur a few minutes notice of their approach, just enough time for him to rally 1,000 of his 2,000 men. According to Babur this was the first battle in which he used a new system of organisation, based on small groups of 10-50 men who each knew their correct position in the line of battle. This allowed his small army to form up into roughly the right formation in this crisis.

Again according to Babur he was badly outnumbered, facing an Arghun force that was around 6,000-7,000 strong. The Arghuns split their force into two - Shah Beg commanded on the left, Muqim on the right. Shah Beg had the larger of the two wings, and faced Babur's vanguard, centre and right, while Muqim faced Babur's left across some difficult water-channels.

Both wings of Babur's army were hard pressed. The left wing was able to hold the line of the water-channels, but his vanguard was pushed back onto the centre. An archery duel followed, after which Babur's right wing was able to push back Shah Beg's men, who eventually turned and fled. Most of Babur's men were dragged into the pursuit, leaving Babur with eleven companions. Despite the tiny size of his force, Babur decided to charge Muqim's flank. Just the threat of an attack on his exposed wing was enough to break Muqim's resistance, and he too fled from the field.

Neither Muqim nor Shah Beg were able to make their way back into Kandahar, which was left effectively undefended. Most of the men who had been left inside the city were those who were believed to favour Babur, and now they let him into the city. A vast amount of treasure fell into Babur's hands after the fall of Kandahar - so many coins were taken than they were eventually distributed by weight!

After securing the city Babur gave control of it to his younger brother Nasir Mirza and returned to Kabul. As Babur departed, Shaibani arrived, having received pleas for help from Shah Beg and Muqim. As Shaibani settled down to besiege Kandahar, Babur and his men began to panic, and prepared to evacuate Kabul and attempt to establish themselves somewhere in Hindustan.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (26 April 2010), Battle of Kandahar, 1507 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_kandahar_1507.html

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