Nader Shah's Proactive War Strategies: Intelligent Domination Plans

  July 08, 2021   Read time 4 min
Nader Shah's Proactive War Strategies: Intelligent Domination Plans
In 1735, after learning of an impending Russian-Ottoman war in Europe, Nader sent a force to menace the Russian- held cities of Baku and Derbend on the Caspian coast.

He threatened to join the sultan in the war, causing the Russians to negotiate an alliance and return the two cities to Nader. The general then wheeled west and invaded the Ottoman Empire, where he won several engagements, capturing Tiflis, Yerevan, and other fortifi ed cities. At the Batt le of Baghavand on a plain near the city of Kars in northeast Anatolia, Nader led an army of nearly fifty thousand in mid- June 1735 against an Ottoman force of fifty thousand cavalry, 30,000 janissaries, and forty cannon under Abdollah Koprulu. Na der lured the Ottomans into a trap where his jazayerchis were able to neutralize the enemy artillery. With the threat of Koprulu’s artillery gone, five hundred or more camels were brought forward, and their zanburaks poured a devastating fire into the Ottoman center. After an additional push from Nader’s infantry, a general Ottoman retreat began. During the pursuit, Koprulu and many of his commanders were killed along with fift y thousand Ott oman soldiers. Aft er this decisive defeat, the Ott oman sultan, anxious to concentrate his attention on his Russian and Austrian enemies, agreed to recognize the earlier peace treaty in return for Nader’s promise not to join Russia in a new war.

Between 1737 and 1738, Nader, now crowned shah, turned east with an army of eighty thousand men and invaded Afghanistan to reclaim the former Safavid provinces around Kandahar, Balkh, and the Baluchistan region. Kandahar was strongly fortified, and Na der did not have heavy siege artillery adequate to breach the city’s thick mud walls. Left with no option but blockade, Nader’s army built a ring of towers around Kandahar. The city had expected Na der’s attack, however, and had stored ample provisions. Having arrived at Kandahar in March 1737, the shah was increasingly impatient as the new year arrived. He ordered new recruits to be brought forward and launched a series of frontal attacks that breached some of Kandahar’s outer defenses. In March 1738 a force of three thousand volunteers concealed themselves in trenches and behind rocks near the city walls to launch a surprise attack. Although many were killed in the att empt to scale the walls with ladders, enough surged over the parapets to capture several towers. The Persian musketeers then defeated numerous counterattacks, and the Afghan commander retreated with the remaining defenders into the city’s citadel. Nader turned his cannons on the stronghold, and after a short bombardment the Afghans agreed to submit. The Afghans were treated leniently, which helped to draw many into the Persian army as it prepared for its next conquest.

Nader appears to have decided earlier to conduct an army- sized raid to plunder India, perhaps in emulation of an expedition by Tamerlane more than three centuries earlier, and gather more wealth to maintain his armed forces. Because Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah had assisted the Afghans against the Persians, Nader had his justification to go to war. To secure its rear as it advanced south, Na der’s army quickly occupied Ghazni and Kabul in eastern Afghanistan, which was part of Muhammad Shah’s domains. On the approaches to the Punjab, a Mughal army of twenty thousand had taken up a strong position in the narrow Khyber Pass, where Nader’s larger numbers would be neutralized. Leaving most of his army at the Khyber Pass to hold his enemy in place, Nader led ten thousand men along a route taken by Alexander the Great and moved over the nearby but more treacherous Tsatsobi Pass to get into the Mughal army’s rear. Attacked from behind, the Mughals were defeated, and Nader advanced south into what is now Pakistan, seizing Peshawar and Lahore. In early 1739 Muhammed Shah marched from Delhi with a Mughal army of as many as three hundred thousand men and two thousand elephants to meet Nader’s invading forces, which by then included about one hundred thousand fi ghters and another sixty thousand camp followers.

With so much treasure to protect, Nader moved his capital from Esfahan to Mashhad, closer to the area where he grew up and which he believed could be more easily defended. He did not rest from his conquests, however, especially when challenged by raiders from Central Asia. Within the year, his army attacked the Uzbeks of Transoxania and, in short order, captured Bukhara and annexed the region south of the Aral Sea. Nader suffered one of his few failures in 1741 when he was unable to suppress the Lez or Lesgians, a tribe occupying the area of modern Dagestan in southern Russia. The Lez were supported by the Ott omans and were unrelenting in defense of their land. Nader Shah’s planned short punitive expedition turned into an ordeal when a serious shortage of supplies developed aft er the protracted campaign and the ravages of war denuded Dagestan of food and forage. With his soldiers becoming mutinous and unable to bring the rebels to a decisive battle, Nader Shah sett led for a cease-fire.