India carried out a “non-military, preemptive action” against a major terror camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) in Balakot, Ministry of External Affairs secretary Vijay Gokhale said on Tuesday.
At a packed press briefing in New Delhi, Gokhale said intelligence reports confirmed that the JeM was preparing to follow up the Pulwama terror attack with a wave of suicide attacks in various parts of the country. “Credible intelligence was received that JeM was attempting another suicide terror attack in various parts of the country, and the fidayeen jihadis were being trained for this purpose. In the face of imminent danger, a preemptive strike became absolutely necessary,” he said.
In an intelligence-led operation that began in the early hours today, Gokhale said, a large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated. The camp was run by Maulana Yousuf Azhar, the brother-in-law of JeM chief Masood Azhar.
“The Government of India is firmly and resolutely committed to taking all necessary measures to fight the menace of terrorism. Hence this non-military pre-emptive action was specifically targeted at the JeM camp. The selection of the target was also conditioned by our desire to avoid civilian casualties,” Gokhale added.
Earlier in the day, Pakistan Army spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor claimed Indian aircraft “intruded from Muzaffarabad sector” and “dropped a payload” near Balakot “facing timely and effective response from Pakistan Air Force”.
ANI reports, quoting sources in the Indian Air Force, said at 0330 hours on February 26, a squadron of Mirage 2000 Indian Fighter jets struck a major terrorist camp across the LoC and completely destroyed it. The IAF source further told ANI that 1000-kg bombs were dropped. ANI said 12 Mirage 2000 jets took part in the operation.
The pre-dawn air strikes by the Indian Air Force (IAF) Mirage fighter jets was on a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) training camp located in Balakot inside Pakistan and not the one in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), reported The Hindu quoting a senior IAF source.
“The terror launch pads along the LoC were moved deep inside after the Pulwama attack. The training camp in Balakot was deep inside. It’s in proper Pakistan itself, close to Abbottabad infamous because of Osama bin Laden,” the source said on condition of anonymity.
Balakot, about 40-50 kms from LoC, is situated in Mansehra district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, about two hours’ drive from Abbottabad.
Another source said the initial Battle Damage Assessment (BDA) is that the hit was 100% and all aircraft returned safely. Further details from the assessment are awaited.
IAF’s Central Air Command led the air strikes. The indigenous Netra early warning aircraft was in the air monitoring the operation and IAF mid-air refueller was also dispatched and ready.
Ahead of the strikes, the Army was put on high alert along the LoC. A senior officer posted along the LoC said they were on high alert in anticipation of retaliatory firing by Pakistan army. “We were told to hold fire as there was movement of jets overhead and they were our own,” he said on the air strike as IAF jets crossed the LoC.
The strike comes just days after 40 CRPF personnel were killed when a Jaish-e-Mohammed suicide bomber rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into a bus carrying paramilitary forces in Jammu Kashmir’s Pulwama district. Pakistan-based terror outfit JeM, led by Masood Azhar, had claimed responsibility for the attack.
This was the first time Indian Air Force has been used in Pakistan-controlled air space after the 1971 war. During the 1999 Kargil conflict, the Vajpayee government had decided to restrict the use of IAF to India’s own side of Line of Control (LoC). IAF had used Mirage 2000 to fire laser-guided bombs, fixed hastily when the Kargil conflict was on, to target Pakistani posts on the mountains of Kargil.
The capability to fix and hit the target, both during day and night and even in cloudy weather, was demonstrated by the IAF in Exercise Vayu Shakti earlier this month in Jaisalmer, said a report in The India Express (IE). The firepower demonstration had showcased capabilities which were way beyond those used during the Kargil War.
The JeM is proscribed by the UN and has been responsible of a series of terrorist attacks including on the Indian Parliament in December 2001 and the Pathankot airbase in January 2016.
Information regarding the location of training camps in Pakistan and PoJK has been provided to Pakistan from time to time. Pakistan, however, denies their existence. The existence of such massive training facilities capable of training hundreds of jihadis could not have functioned without the knowledge of Pakistan authorities.
India has been repeatedly urging Pakistan to take action against the JeM to prevent jihadis from being trained and armed inside Pakistan. Pakistan has taken no concrete actions to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism on its soil.
Gokhale said: “The Government of Pakistan had made a solemn commitment in January 2004 not to allow its soil or territory under its control to be used for terrorism against India. We expect that Pakistan lives up to its public commitment and takes follow up actions to dismantle all JeM and other camps and hold the terrorists accountable for the actions.”