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Radar imagery confirms 4 buildings in Jaish madrasa were hit, says official

Assessment of terrorist casualties is ‘purely speculative’. The buildings were in the campus of the madrasa run by Jaish which is located on the same ridge line as the hilltop, a few hundred metres to the east.

Pakistani reporters and troops visit the site of the Indian airstrike in Jabha, near Balakot, Pakistan, on Tuesday. (AP)

When the Indian Air Force (IAF) struck the Jaish-e-Mohammad training camp at Balakot on Monday-Tuesday night, it hit the four buildings it had targeted inside the campus of Madrasa Taleem-ul-Quran, top government sources have told The Indian Express.

They said that limitations of technical intelligence and lack of ground intelligence at this point make any assessment of terrorists killed in the attack “purely speculative”.

EXPLAINED | Why Balakot is a watershed

Sources said that intelligence agencies have evidence, in the form of imagery from Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), showing that the four buildings, identified as targets, were hit by five S-2000 precision-guided munition (PGM) fired from IAF’s Mirage-2000 fighter jets.

The buildings were in the campus of the madrasa run by Jaish which is located on the same ridge line as the hilltop, a few hundred metres to the east.

Read | Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman returns, IAF says happy he’s back

Pakistan has confirmed that the area was struck by India but has denied that there were terror camps or that there was any damage.

“Why did the Pakistan Army seal the madrasa after the strike? Why did it not allow journalists to visit the madrasa? We have evidence in the form of SAR imagery to show that a building used as a guest house, where brother of Maulana Masood Azhar used to stay; an L-shaped building where trainers used to stay; a double-storied building used to house students entering the seminary and another building where those undergoing final combat training used to stay, were hit by the bombs,” an official told The Indian Express.

‘It is for the political leadership to decide if it wants to release that imagery and make public what is a ‘classified’ capability. The SAR images are not as clear as satellite pictures and we couldn’t get a good satellite picture on Tuesday because of heavy clouds. That would have settled the debate,” the official added.

“The madrasa was selected carefully as it was in the middle of nowhere and there was little chance of any civilian casualties. Intelligence given to the IAF was accurate and timely,” the official said.

Two Reuters reporters who visited the site of the bombings, where four large craters could be seen, said up to 15 pine trees had been brought down by the blasts. (Reuters)

He also said that the buildings were targeted by the IAF’s Israeli bombs. These are not meant to destroy the building but only to cause damage after they enter a building. As reported by The Indian Express, IAF had used Israeli S-2000 PGM for reaching the targets.

A military official explained that the S-2000 is a highly accurate, jammer-proof bomb which works precisely even under heavy cloud cover.

“It first penetrates through the roof, then enters the building and explodes after a delay. It is meant to hit the command and control centres and does not destroy the building. The software has to be programmed with the type of roof – its thickness, material of construction etc. – and that, accordingly, sets the delay period for the PGM.”

The government official said that these buildings had roofs made of corrugated galvanized iron (CGI) sheets and the SAR imagery shows that on the first day, these roofs had gone missing.

These CGI roofs were repaired after two days, making it difficult to assess the full damage by technical intelligence, he added.

READ | From PM Modi to Rahul Gandhi to other Opposition leaders: Who said what on air strikes in Balakot

As Pakistan Army has tightly controlled access to the madrassa, there is a lack of human intelligence from the ground to give an accurate picture of total damage and number of terrorists killed in the air strike.

“The whole place has been sealed off by Pakistan Army. We have not been able to get any reliable intelligence inputs and any figures of terrorists killed in the airstrike is purely speculative,” the official added.

Sources also denied that any of the IAF bombs hit the hilltop at Jaba where Pakistan Army has taken a team of journalists to see some craters, and splintered trees. The military official said that “if only S-2000 PGM were fired, there is no possibility of craters or sheared trees. The PGM would go inside the earth and then explode, which would create a mound of earth instead.”

From left to right: Indian Army Major General Surendra Singh Mahal, Indian Navy Rear Admiral Dalbir Singh Gujral and Indian Air Force Air Vice Marshall R G K Kapoor. (Express photo: Tashi Tobgyal)

A second official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the IAF was keen on crossing the LoC to bomb the target but it was decided that it should only fire the PGM “from Indian side of LoC”.

The S-2000 PGM used by IAF for the strike can be fired from a standoff distance of up to around 100 km, the official said.

The Indian Express has learnt that contrary to Pak claims, no IAF aircraft crossed the LoC and as per radar data reviewed by the IAF, the closest Pakistani aircraft was at a distance of about 120 km.

It is believed that Pakistan Air Force (PAF) had been taken in by the decoy “airstrike” feigned by IAF which suggested that it was going towards a city in southern Punjab. PAF scrambled its aircraft to tackle that threat leaving the space on the LoC open for the attack.

The second official also explained that as there was no airspace closure for civilian flights when the airstrike was launched, the government had to create a “dark corridor” for the IAF to move such a large fleet of aircraft to the target area.

This meant that these fighter jets had to take a long and circuitous route to avoid suspicion and monitoring by international civilian flights.

This official said that preparations were made for a response from Pakistan Air Force, with likely targets such as IAF airbases being warned and prepared for it. Air defence units and ground defence units were also put on the highest alert by the IAF, he said.

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