Jaish-e-Mohammad group chief, Maulana Masood Azhar
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Highlights

  • Indian minister denies link between attack on 'Pakistan terror camps' and May elections
  • Balakot reportedly on the radar of Indian intelligence agencies for being a hub of Jaish-e-Mohammad
  • 'Very large number of JeM terrorists killed'
  • Balakot IAF strike took 200 hours of planning

Chennai, India: Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday said the central government's stand on the number of terrorists killed in the Indian Air Force (IAF) bombing of terror camps in Balakot is what the Foreign Secretary had stated earlier.

"The Indian government's stand on the casualty figure is the same as that of the Foreign Secretary's statement," she said.

Sitharaman also denied link between the air attack on Pakistan terror camps and the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Speaking to reporters, Sitharaman said India's Foreign Secretary did not give out any casualty number in his statement made after the IAF attack on the terror camps.

The Defence Minister said India had given proof of terror camps to the Pakistan government, but it did not take any action.

After the Pulwama attack in which 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers were killed and there was information of terrorists planning another attack. Therefore, the IAF destroyed the terror camps in Balakot, said the minister.

Clarifying that the IAF strike on terror camps was not a military action, the Defence Minister said the IAF destroyed terror camps and nobody else was injured in the attack.

'Balakot was epicentre of jihad in South Asia'

Balakot, the town in a remote valley in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where the Indian Air Force struck the Jaish-e-Mohammad's (JeM) biggest training camp on Tuesday, was the "epicentre of jihad in South Asia", according to a 2010 book Partitions of Allah-Jihad in South Asia.

In the book, historian Ayesha Jalal had contended that the idea and practice of jihad had a long tradition in the Indian subcontinent with Balakot as its epicentre.

Jalal had noted in the book, published in March 2010 by Harvard University Press, that Balakot was the place where Sayyid Ahmad (1786-1831) and Shah Ismail (1779-1831) waged a jihad against the Sikh kingdom of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and fell in battle on May 6, 1831.

"Balakot's association with the idea and practice of jihad in South Asia was reinforced in the 1990s, when militant groups set up training camps in its environs to prepare for their campaign against the Indian security forces stationed in predominantly Muslim Kashmir. For these militants, Sayyid Ahmad and Shah Ismail are great heroes, whose jihad their admirers wish to emulate, to redress what they perceive as current injustices," Jalal had written in the book.

Terror groups are fixated on symbolism and it was Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that emreged as the place for the biggest training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad, which has claimed responsibility for the Pulwama terror attack.

Balakot on the radar

Balakot was on the radar of Indian intelligence agencies for being a hub of JeM. Intelligence agencies were sure that the Pulwama attack was also planned in Balakot where even Masood Azhar's son Abdullah had undergone terror training and so had Pulwama attack mastermind Ghazi.

The location of Balakot is away from the LoC which made it a safe heaven for terrorist training. Even the Border Action Teams (BATs) of Pakistan army regulars, who carry out cross-border raids on Indian patrols on LoC, are trained in Balakot.

There was an element of deception before carrying out the strike as the focus of Indian response was given away as JeM headquarters in Bahawalpur. The Pakistani agencies were busy protecting Bahwalpur but the attack centred on Balakot.

It was decided that the revenge would be taken on the 13th day of Pulwama attack to pay "best homage" to the slain CRPF personnel who lost their lives after a bus, part of a 78-vehicle convoy, they were travelling in was blown up by a suicide bomber on the Jammu-Srinagar highway.

Balakot IAF strike: 200 hours of planning

The pre-dawn attack air strike by Indian Air Force (IAF) on Jaish-e-Mohammed's (JeM) biggest terror camp in Balakot in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on early Tuesday involved over 200 hours of planning that began following intelligence inputs regarding a second suicide terror strike somewhere in India.

Highly-placed sources said that the government got the intelligence input just two days after the February 14 terror strike in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama by JeM suicide bomber Adil Ahmad Dar in which 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers were killed and five suffered injuries.

The intelligence input warned of another suicide terror attack - which could be bigger than Pulwama - at any place across India, said the source.

Soon after the input, a series of meetings were held among top government officials and ministers concerned, the chiefs of the Army, Navy and IAF and National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval to give befitting reply to the JeM terrorists.

The final decision to carry out an air strike on a Pakistan-based terror camp was taken in a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Doval and IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa, present.

"The meeting finalized an air strike on the terror camps as the only option to take revenge for security personnel killed in Pulwama attack and give a big jolt to the JeM's plan to carry out another strike in India. Over 200 hours of planning went into the air strike in which every aspect was taken care of," said the source.

It was decided that the revenge would be taken on the 13th day of Pulwama attack to pay "best homage" to the slain CRPF personnel who lost their lives after a bus, part of a 78-vehicle convoy, they were travelling in was blown up by

Suicide car packed with 200kg of explosives

Adil's car packed with over 200 kg of explosives on the Jammu-Srinagar highway, said the source.

Another source said that 16 Sukhoi fighter jets were backing over 12 Mirage 2000 fighter jets that pounded multiple terror camps across the Line of Control (LoC) in what is being seen as the first cross-border air strike India has carried out in nearly five decades.

"Mirage jets left their base in Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh and after mid-air fuelling over Adampur in Punjab, they struck the terror camps in Balakot."

When India decided to raise the bar after the Pulwama attack, Balakot was on the radar of Indian intelligence agencies for being a hub of JeM.

'Very large number of JeM terrorists killed'

Intelligence agencies were sure that the Pulwama attack was also planned in Balakot terror camp which was headed by JeM chief Masood Azhar's brother-in-law Maulana Yusuf Azhar.

The location of Balakot, well away from the LoC, made it a safe heaven for terrorist training. Even the Border Action Teams (BATs) of Pakistan army regulars, who carry out cross-border raids on Indian patrols on the LoC, are trained in Balakot.

Foreign Secretary Vijay K. Gokhale on Tuesday told the media that a very large number of JeM terrorists, including senior commanders, trainers and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen (suicide attack) missions, were eliminated in the operation.

"India struck the biggest training camp of JeM in Balakot. Credible intelligence was received that the JeM was attempting another suicide terror attack in various parts of the country (India), and the fidayeen jihadis were being trained for this purpose," Gokhale said.

Pakistan admitted that the IAF planes struck Balakot but claimed that they returned when it scrambled its war planes.

Pakistan’s radars were “jammed”

The Pakistan Air Force failed to detect the presence of the Indian fighter jets as it was already too late for them as their surveillance system had been jammed by the IAF during its raid at Balakot militant camp early on Tuesday, sources said.

The Indian package had at least two jets mounted with electronic warfare (EW) system that helped jam the Pakistani radars.

A "package" in military terms refers to grouping of various types of jets with different functions. A package typically consists of EW jets, the bombers and the protector jets that secure the bombers from enemy jets as bombers themselves are not in a position to effectively retaliate thanks to heavy payload.

A package usually consists of a minimum of 10-12 and maximum of 39-40 fighter jets, depending upon the requirements of the operation at hand.

In the Tuesday's "non-military preemptive" strike, the IAF used 10-12 Mirage 2000 multi-role aircraft of which at least three were bombers.

In the Indian package, usually Su-30 and Mig 29 jets are used as protectors. But they were possibly not used in Tuesday's opration as Mirage is a multirole aircraft that can act as a bomber, protector and an EW carrier.

Guided bombs with GPS

The Mirage 2000 bombers used guided bombs with GPS coordinates fed into them to strike with precision and avoid any collateral damage.

The Mirage jets were chosen for the mission as this particular guided bomb system can be used with Mirage only, sources said.

Later, at an all-party meet in the national capital on Tuesday evening, the leaders cutting across party lines praised the Indian Air Force for its precision and professionalism as it hit the terrorist launch pad without incurring any loss to civilian life or hitting any Pakistani military target.

Sources in the Defence Ministry said that Pakistan has "very limited" options to retaliate short of inciting a fullfledged war which it can possibly not afford.

"Clearly, they cannot hit back in a similar way as they have no targets on our side of LoC. We don't have any terror camps here which they can hit. If they hit an Indian military target, they would have no jus ad bellum (a set of criteria that are to be consulted before engaging in war in order to determine whether entering into war is permissible, that is, whether it is a just war). It would mean sparking a fullfledged war," a senior official told IANS on condition of anonymity.

"Pakistan may resort to terror strikes, but in that case it cannot take the ownership. That means it cannot tell its people that it has done that. Also, it will again invoke a retaliatory action from India," the official said.

"One of the achievements of this strike is, apart from destroying a terrorist launch pad and avenging Pulwama attack, India has driven home the point that it can act with 'conventional' means against subconventional warfare by Pakistan," he added.

He said that at most Pakistan could perhaps scale up firing at Line of Control (LoC).

As expected, Pakistan on Tuesday evening resorted to heavy firing and shelling in Akhnoor, Nowshera and Krishna Ghati sectors along the LoC in ceasefire violation.