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  India   All India  27 Feb 2019  India strikes back

India strikes back

Published : Feb 27, 2019, 2:30 am IST
Updated : Feb 27, 2019, 2:30 am IST

12 Mirage jets drop 1,000 kg bombs on JeM terror camps across LoC.

Some reports said Yousuf Azhar may have been killed in the strike. (Photo: ANI)
 Some reports said Yousuf Azhar may have been killed in the strike. (Photo: ANI)

New Delhi: After the surgical strikes on the ground across the Line of Control in 2016, India retaliated to the terror attack in Pulwama on February 14 and fears of another attack by launching yet another pre-dawn strike, this time by air. Tuesday’s pre-dawn attack  through IAF Mirage-2000 fighter jets at Jaish-e-Mohammed’s biggest training camp of at Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhpunkhwa province killed “a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen (suicide terror) action”. This was the first time since the 1971 war that IAF fighters crossed the LoC, something they hadn’t done even during the 1999 Kargil conflict.

Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale said the terror camp was headed by Maulana Yousuf Azhar, alias Ustad Ghouri, brother-in-law of JeM chief Masood Azhar, and “credible intelligence was received that JeM was attempting another suicide terror attack in various parts of the country”. The foreign secretary described it as a “pre-emptive strike” and also as “non-military pre-emptive action specifically targeted at the JeM camp”. Mr Gokhale said the terror camp struck was “located in the thick forest on a hilltop far away from any civilian presence”. Confusion initially persisted on whether the camp struck was in Pakistan’s

Khyber-Pakhpunkhwa (KPK) province or in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), as both have towns known as Balakot/Balakote, but sources told this newspaper later that this was the one in KPK. Some reports said Yousuf Azhar may have been killed in the strike.

Sources said India’s air defence systems and armed forces had been put on high alert to thwart any bid by Pakistan to retaliate. The Indian forces are bracing themselves for a Pakistani retaliation. Dismissing India’s version of events as “fictitious”, Pakistan nevertheless accused India of “committing uncalled-for aggression to which Pakistan shall respond at the time and place of its choosing”.

Sources said 12 French-origin Mirage-2000 fighters took part in the strike, with about six bombs of 1000 kg being dropped on the camp. The entire operation took over 20 minutes, starting at 3.45 am and ending at 4.05 am. To confuse the Pakistani defence forces, fighter aircraft took off from several air bases in the Western and Central Command areas  in a synchronised operation, at about the same time. Then a small group of aircraft broke away from the swarm and headed to hit
the Balakot camp.

According to some reports, early-warning systems (Awacs) were used to keep an eye on any action emanating from Pakistan and mid-air refuellers were also deployed for any emergency use.  Sources said 250 to 300 terrorists were at the camp when the IAF warplanes struck it and perished in the assault.

Sources said Balakot in KPK is 60 km by air from the LoC and 180 km by road. Sources also said JeM used to run basic arms training, advanced arms training and Border Action Team training at the camp.

Meanwhile, admitting that IAF fighters had crossed the LoC “in the Muzaffarabad sector (of PoK) upto three to four miles”, the Pakistan Army claimed the Pakistan Air Force had scrambled its fighter aircraft in response, following which the IAF fighters “went back”. The Pakistan Army also claimed that IAF fighters had released their “payload in haste”, which “fell near Balakot”(in PoK) in an “open area” and that there were no casualties or the destruction of any infrastructure.

A statement issued from Islamabad said Pakistan “strongly rejected the Indian claim of targeting an alleged terrorist camp near Balakot and the claim of heavy casualties”, adding that India “has resorted to a self-serving, reckless and fictitious claim”. Islamabad also accused New Delhi of “putting regional peace and stability at grave risk”, adding that the “domestic and international media would be taken to the impact site”.

In what was an indication of political will and resolve, photographs on Tuesday morning showed a meeting — held after the strike — presided over by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, flanked by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and finance minister Arun Jaitley to his right, and home minister Rajnath Singh and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman to his left, apart from NSA Ajit Doval and Mr Gokhale. Experts point out that India’s emphasis of it being a “non-military pre-emptive action” was a clear signal to the rest of the world, including Pakistan, that the strike was not aimed at the Pakistani military or civilians but was aimed only at a terror camp to neutralise a terror attack on India.

Addressing reporters, Mr Gokhale said: “In an intelligence-led operation in the early hours of today, India struck the biggest training camp of JeM in Balakot. In this operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated. This facility at Balakot was headed by Maulana Yousuf Azhar alias Ustad Ghouri, the brother-in-law of Masood Azhar, chief of JeM.”

Mr Gokhale further said: “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 pre-emptive strike became absolutely necessary... 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. The facility is located in thick forest on a hilltop far away from any civilian presence.”

However, Pakistan Army spokesperson Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor claimed in a series of tweets: “Indian Air Force violated Line of Control. Pakistan Air Force immediately scrambled. Indian aircrafts (have) gone back. Indian aircrafts intruded from Muzaffarabad sector. Facing timely and effective response from Pakistan Air Force released payload in haste while escaping which fell near Balakot. No casualties or damage. Payload of hastily escaping Indian aircrafts fell in open. Indian aircrafts’ intrusion across LoC in Muzaffarabad Sector within (PoK) was 3-4 miles. Under forced hasty withdrawal, aircraft released payload which had free fall in open area. No infrastructure got hit, no casualties.”

Giving the background of events, foreign secretary Gokhale said: “On 14 February 2019, a suicide terror attack was conducted by a Pak-based terrorist organisation Jaish-e-Mohammed, leading to the martyrdom of 40 brave jawans of the CRPF. JeM has been active in Pakistan for the last two decades, and is led by Masood Azhar with its headquarters in Bahawalpur. This organisation, which is proscribed by the UN, 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 PoK 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 the Pakistan authorities.”

Mr Gokhale added: “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 action to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism on its soil.” He then 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 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 their actions.”

Tags: surgical strikes, mirage 2000