Indian forces struck a major Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terror camp across the Line of Control (LoC) in Balakot in the early hours of Tuesday, Foreign Ministry secretary Vijay Gokhale said.
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.
Balakot attack: What we know so far:
The strike on the terror camp, Gokhale said, killed a large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, and senior commanders. The camp was run by Maulana Yousuf Azhar, the brother-in-law of JeM chief Masood Azhar, where groups of Jihadis were being trained for fidayeen action, according to Indian intelligence inputs.
No number has been released
Describing today’s strike as “non-military, preemptive action”, Gokhale said the terror camp in Balakot was chosen as the target since it was far away from civilian presence.
“As the strike has taken place only a short while ago, we are awaiting further details,” Gokhale said.
Type of aircraft used and volume of ammunition has not been confirmed
Balakot attack: What we don’t know so far:
Sources told The Indian Express that JeM terror camp was deep inside Pakistan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The MEA, however, only confirmed that the camp was located in a thick forest on a hilltop, far away from any civilian presence.
So air strike on only one camp has been confirmed
Further, the MEA said it used “preemptive action” but did not state whether it was an IAF or Army operation. According to news agency ANI, a squadron of 12 IAF Mirage aircraft flew across LoC and dropped 1000 kg bombs. But Gokhale gave no details on the same.
Why is the air strike significant?
Today’s airstrike in Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir is 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 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.
Though the MEA confirmed a large number of terrorists were neutralised in today’s strike, they did not peg a figure on the casualties.
Balakot attack: How Pakistan reacted to the strike:
Pakistan Foreign Minister Qureshi said India has violated the LoC and Pakistan has the right to respond. “First, they committed aggression against Pakistan today. It is a violation of the LoC. I consider it a violation of the LoC, and Pakistan his right to give a suitable response in self-defence,” he told reporters after an “emergency meeting” with high-level officials at the Foreign Office (FO) for consultations.
Qureshi briefed Prime Minister Khan after the meeting at the FO.
Earlier, Pakistan armed forces 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”. “Indian aircraft intruded from Muzafarabad sector. Facing timely and effective response from Pakistan Air Force released payload in haste while escaping which fell near Balakot. No casualties or damage,” Major General Asif Ghafoor, Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the Pakistan Army, said in a tweet.
“Indian Air Force violated Line of Control Pakistan. Pakistan Air Force immediately scrambled. Indian aircraft gone back,” he tweeted.