Twelve days after the Pulwama attack , the Indian Air Force bombed the Jaish-e-Mohammad’s “biggest” terror-training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot early on Tuesday. The operation was carried out by 12 Mirage-2000 fighter jets, which unleashed five one-tonne bombs on the camp, based 70 km inside the Line of Control (LoC), in the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakthunkhwa.
Senior officials citing intelligence inputs said the JeM facility was particularly crowded with 200-325 militants as many had abandoned launch pads and training camps closer to the LoC after the Pulwama attack in the expectation that India would not target Balakot.
The aerial attack on a target inside Pakistani territory marks a major shift in India’s counter-terror responses, which have thus far been restricted to ground operations across the LoC in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Defence officials said the Mirage fighters took off from the Gwalior airbase at approximately 3 a.m., backed by aircraft from other bases, including Sirsa, Bathinda and Agra. Announcing the strikes, the government said it was a “non-military, pre-emptive” counter-terror operation against imminent threats from the JeM.
“Credible intelligence was received that the JeM would attempt another suicide terror attack, and jihadis were being trained for this purpose. In the face of imminent danger, a pre-emptive strike became absolutely necessary,” Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said, adding that “a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis, who were being trained for fidayeen action, were eliminated” in the operation.
The first word on the attacks came not from the government, but from the Pakistani military spokesperson, who denied any “casualties or damage” from the operation. At 5.42 (IST) on Tuesday, Major General Asif Ghafoor tweeted that IAF jets had violated the LoC and “released a payload (munitions) while escaping” after being confronted by Pakistani Air Force planes scrambled to repel the incursion. “It is India’s turn now to wait for our response, it will come as a surprise,” Major-General Ghafoor warned at a press conference later. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has convened a joint session of Parliament as well as a meeting of the nuclear command structure, National Command Authority (NCA), on Wednesday to discuss his country’s response.
A few hours after the strike, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security to review the operations, and later met all three service chiefs. While he did not mention the air strike publicly during the day, Mr. Modi later told a rally in Rajasthan’s Churu that the nation is in “safe hands,” paying tribute to Indian security forces.
Later in the day, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj met with foreign diplomats and spoke to Foreign Ministers of U.S., China, Singapore, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, briefing them about the operation.
Sources present at the briefing of diplomats told The Hindu that Ms. Swaraj stressed the point that India had only conducted a counter-terror strike on a training camp in Pakistan, and did not wish to “escalate” the situation further.