Undefeated general and a skilled dual bladed swords man, Hazrat Khalid ibn al-Walid was a renounced Arabian military commander who’s military skills innovative tactics brought victories unifying all of Arabia and taking the Sassanid (Persians)/ Roman (East Romans) two of the strongest empires of the time down, sealing the fate of the middle east for centuries to come.
According to most credible sources Hazrat Al-Walid is said to have fought around 200 battles and skirmishes as well as battle deciding duels throughout his military career, remaining undefeated and earning a place as one of the most finest military generals in history. Such was the brilliance of his tactical leadership that when Arab tribes were being used as proxies by the Romans and Sassanid’s and both powers threatened border region of the new Arabian caliphate state after killing the Arab emissaries (Which at the time was considered an act of war) Hazrat Al-Walid was summoned and given the task of countering the Northern threats and expanding the states influence.
He was the architect of most early Muslim military doctrines and considered the pioneer of almost every tactic used during early expansion .It was due to his reforms and administrative ability he organized the previously tribal forces into a single organization divided into regular military units. It was under him the Arab troops started getting standardized weapons according to the unit and became professional as they gained experience battle after battle. It was due to these factors he was able to lead his forces and defeat the better equipped and often outnumbering superior Sassanid and Roman armies. His tactics and military leadership style were heavily focused on intelligence and recon of the terrain. These tactics greatly influenced many future commanders resulting in complete Sassanid defeat and break down of the Holy Roman empire.
Skill with the sword
He was not only a good military commander but also an expert fighter as well as one of the few people which fought using duel swords. He was also a good at archery, using the spear alongside other weapons common at the time. He often preferred dueling the enemy commanders before the start of a battle as was custom at the time (The armies would form up facing each other and two of the selected warriors would duel each other in the ground in between). He won essentially every duel and was able to use this as a psychological warfare tactic to demoralize the opposing army. He was also very good in horsemanship who preferred to ride fast as a result he was often referred as the “Bark” (Lighting). It is due to these skills he was confident in his ability to fight on the front lines with his men and take part in the initial battle champion duels greatly increasing the morale of his men.
Diplomacy and Honor
Aside from military matters he also served administrative and diplomatic roles, something he was not good at first due to his rashness however learning from his past mistakes he was able to improve and use diplomatic measures to unite many tribes. He also served as the military Governor of Iraq region from 632–633 and Governor of Chalcis, the most strategic cantonment in Northern Syria before being recalled back to Arabia.
He was very much set on honor and always fulfilled his side of the deal during agreements with his enemies. He would honor terms and conditions imposed in exchange for his enemies surrender etc. An example of this is where after securing a great victory in the Battle of Maraj-al-Debaj, Al-Walids forces were able to capture the Roman Emperor “Heraclius” daughter, when a roman ambassador was sent to Khalid by the Emperor requesting she be sent returned to him just name the price. Khalid replied “Take her as my gift to you, there shall be no ransom” after which she was handed over to the ambassador who took her back. Another example is during the siege of Damascus Al-Walid had successfully crossed the walls with a few men and opened the gate from within breaching the walls, as news of this spread the defender Roman Prince Thomas sent a letter of surrender and surrender terms to the Muslim commander stationed at the back which was accepted. Al-Walid was not happy since he had already captured the city through storm and there was no need for a conditional surrender but honored the surrender agreements after most other commanders also favored accepting surrender. He let the Roman prince and his army go in a 3-day truce while ensuring the protection of city civilians and their property. Non the less Al-Walid led a surprise attack on Thomas during his retreat immediately after the 3 day truce was over eliminating him in a duel to make sure the experienced commander Thomas could not fight him another day.
He would also follow the decisions of the commanders under him even if he did not approve of it and listened to his advisors with an open heart showing complete trust. There are many examples of him showing great trust in his subordinates such as given command of half his army to lower ranking capable officers.
Tactics and Command style
Much of Hazrat Khalid ibn al-Walids strategy relied in his use of extreme methods to completely destroy the opposing army. He is said to have put more emphasis on annihilating enemy formations, rather than achieving victory by simply defeating them and letting them escape behind enemy lines to fight another day, it was either surrender or die for them. An example of this is his employment of the double envelopment maneuver against the numerically superior Sassanid army at the Battle of Walaja and his maneuver at the Battle of Yarmouk where he virtually trapped the Roman army between three steep ravines by stealthily capturing their only escape route.
Such a method of warfare relied on an excellent intelligence network and high mobility of his forces. Psychological warfare also played a massive part in his plans to demoralize the superior and manipulate their every move so that he can coordinate his less armored and armed men in the most efficient manner possible. His biggest achievement was the conversion of Arab tactical doctrine into this strategic system of combined Intelligence/ Highly mobile warfare. Hence his style of command can be divided into 3 main sub points: Psychological, Intelligence and High mobility.
He knew the great important of an army’s morale he sought to use this understanding to great effect. It was always his goal to provoke the enemy to follow tradition and send champions preferably high-ranking officers or generals before the actual battle and fight in full view of both armies. Now because it was tradition most foes agreed to these duels, something Hazrat Khalid used to achieve two goals. The first was crush the opposing army’s moral and second to boast his own armies’ spirits. He would achieve this by participating in the duels himself alongside his handpicked Arab Bedouin warriors. These were legendary warriors each with their own individual skills all of whom had been developed into a regular unit meant to function as champions by Hazrat Khalid. These duels always ended in favor of the Arabs with him always defeating his foe achieving the morale boasting/crushing goal.
Hazrat Khalid ibn Al-Walid laid great importance to collection of accurate Intel regarding the lay out of the land, its people, and the opposing army. To achieve this, he created an efficient and large network of spies sending them behind enemy lines and well-trained scouts. After having received his Intel he used it to determine his future moves, should he recruit local population or how he should position his forces. He utilized his better understanding of terrain and people in every possible way to gain strategic superiority over his enemies. During his Persian campaigns, he initially never entered deep into Sassanid territory and always kept the Arabian desert at his rear, allowing his forces to make a tactical regrouping there when necessary. It was only after all the strong Sassanid and Sasaanid-allied forces were routed that he penetrated deeper into Euphrates region and captured the regional capital of Iraq, Al-Hira. Again, at Yarmouk, the terrain would help him in executing his grand strategy of annihilating the Romans.
Another usage of intelligence was determining the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing armies’ men. He needed to know what they were armed with and how armored they were. Initially the Arabs soldiers were far more lightly armored then their Roman and Sassanid contemporaries, which made them vulnerable in close combat at head on battles and to fire of enemy archers. Hazrat Khalid therefore never blundered in the battle sending them head on without cavalry flanking support and under the cover of friendly archers.
Before unification the Arabs were basically raiders and skirmishers. Al-Walid turned those skirmishing tactics into something that could be used anywhere hence he would skirmish the enemy to death. He would bring his army in front of his enemies, make use of his mobility to shift battle grounds and wait until the battle degenerated into a skirmishing affair between small units. Then after exhausting the enemy units from continuous marching and attacks he would launch his cavalry at their flanks employing Hammer and Anvil tactics as a final blow. It was due to this careful nature that Al-Walid was able to win battle after battle and advance further without reinforcements coming to strengthen the army.
3: High Mobility
One of the characteristics of Hazrat Khalid-Bin-Walid was the speed of his military operations. He would move his entire army at the speed of a single rider resulting is many surprise attack opportunities. He was a great exponent of rapid and disruptive guerrilla tactics that demoralized the enemy, broke their formations, and caused massive confusion among enemy ranks. This ‘bias to action’, together with very well disciplined troops, invariably stood him in good stead earning victories after victories.
In their mobility, his troops had no match until the Mongol riders of the 13th century. Khalid’s elite light cavalry the Mobile guard acted as the core of the Muslim army’s cavalry. It was composed of highly trained and seasoned soldiers, the majority of whom had been under Khalid’s standard during his Arabian and Sassanid campaigns. The light cavalry force were armed with long lances who would charge at an incredible speed and would usually employ hit-and-run tactics destroying enemy formations and ranks They would charge on enemy flanks and rear, their maneuverability making them very effective against heavily armored Byzantine and Sassanid infantry.
His most commonly used maneuver was long distance surprise attacks where he would target far away enemy unsuspecting logistical supply depots or army camps. His ability to maneuver his army quickly through areas others would think impossible was essential for such tactics. An example of this are his night attacks from three different sides on Sassanid camps at Zumail, Muzayyah and Saniyy. His highly mobile army successfully maneuvering in a 100 km area, quickly destroying encampments of the Sassanid and their Arab allies.
Another example is during his advancement into Roman territory when Roman Emperor Heraclius had sent all his available garrisoned troops into Syria to hold the Muslim troops at the Syria-Arabia border region. The only possible route of any Arab reinforcement was expected to be the conventional Syria-Arabia road in the south but Khalid took the most unexpected route marching through the waterless Syrian desert to the surprise of the Romans.
A brilliant tactician brace front line leader, one who can be credited to bringing down two super powers of the time while using a less armored and armed force. Always leading from the front, he showed courage to his troops to gain morale and personally issue orders on the front. Always staying a few steps further understanding the art of war. Hazrat Khalid ibn al-Walid is undoubtedly one of the most effective military commanders who was born for the battle field and died warm in his bed full of scars at an old age expressing he’d had rather perished on the battle field.
“And here I am, dying in my bed, like cattle die. May the eyes of cowards never sleep”