Indian Air Force strikes Jaish-e-Mohammad terror camps in Pakistan - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 26 February 2019

Indian Air Force strikes Jaish-e-Mohammad terror camps in Pakistan

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Feb 19

Indian fighter jets struck the biggest training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) inside Pakistan in a pre-dawn operation on Tuesday, killing over 300 terrorists. The synchronised strike, involving 12 Mirage 2000 aircraft and supported by a fleet of Sukhoi 30 jets, a mid-air refueller and two airborne warning and control systems, targeted JeM’s “five-star resort style” camp on a hilltop in Balakot, about 80 km from the Line of Control, sources said. 

The entire operation lasted about 20 minutes, and came days after the February 14 suicide bombing of a convoy of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama in which 40 troopers were killed. JeM had claimed responsibility for the Pulwama attack.

Hours after the IAF’s operation, India’s foreign secretary, Vijay Gokhale, said this was an “absolutely necessary” attack on the proscribed terrorist group, which was readying for a major terrorist strike in India. 

“In an intelligence-led operation in the early hours of the day, 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,” Gokhale said. 

“This facility at Balakot was headed by Maulana Yousuf Azhar (alias Ustad Ghouri), the brother-in-law of Masood Azhar, chief of JeM,” he added.

Gokhale made it clear this was a counter-terrorist strike that targeted only JeM, not the Pakistan military or civilians. “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,” he said.

The attack stunned Pakistan, which vowed to respond "at the time and place of its choosing" and raise the matter at the United Nations and other international forums. At a hurriedly called special meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC), Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan asked the armed forces and the people of his country to remain prepared for "all eventualities". Several nations, meanwhile, appealed to both India and Pakistan to exercise restraint. 

Tuesday’s retaliatory air strikes are the first time since the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war that Indian combat aircraft crossed into Pakistan-held territory. Even during the Kargil war in 1999, when IAF fighters repeatedly struck Pakistan Army soldiers who had crossed into the Indian side of the LOC, great care was taken to ensure Indian aircraft did not violate the LoC. But in this case, military planners realised early that Pakistan would be prepared for ground strikes. Besides, the political need was for a more forceful response. That left air strikes as the only acceptable option. 

Both sides have signed onto a confidence-building measure (CBM) that prohibits fixed wing aircraft from flying within 10 km of the LoC, and helicopters from coming closer than 5 km without informing the other side beforehand. By disregarding this, the IAF has sent a stern message to Islamabad.

Tuesday’s air strikes constitute a stronger message than the “surgical strikes” of September 28, 2016, when Indian commandos attacked four terrorist camps across the LoC as retribution for the killing of 19 Indian soldiers by Pakistani militants in the town of Uri.

Since there are two Balakot towns, there was initial confusion over which target was struck, and how deep across the LoC it was. However, sources later confirmed that the strike occurred in Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province.

“If this is Balakot in KPK it’s a major incursion & a significant strike by IAF planes. However if it’s Balakot in Poonch sector, along the LoC it’s a largely symbolic strike because at this time of the year forward launch pads & militant camps are empty & non-functional,” tweeted former J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah.

According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) correspondent in Pakistan, the IAF air strikes took place at Jaba Top, in Balakot (KPK), where Hizbul Mujahideen operates a training camp. Local villagers also report hearing explosions in the area, reports the BBC.

This raises serious questions over the capability of Pakistani air defences. Their porousness was first dramatically exposed in the US operation against Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in 2011. They have now been exposed again by the IAF’s ability to strike 80 km into Pakistan without being intercepted or incurring casualties.

For now, Pakistan is downplaying the air strikes. Three hours after the strikes, Major General Asif Ghafoor, chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), tweeted: “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.”

At 8:41 am, Ghafoor tweeted four photographs of craters in a forested area, with the message: “Payload of hastily escaping Indian aircrafts fell in open.” At 9:59 am, Ghafoor tweeted again: “Indian aircraft’s intrusion across LoC in Muzafarabad sector within AJ&K (Azad Jammu & Kashmir) was 3-4 miles. Under forced hasty withdrawal aircrafts released payload which had free fall in open area. No infrastructure got hit, no casualties. Technical details and other important information to follow.”

Indian army units have been placed on alert in anticipation of Pakistani retaliation. The Indian Navy, which was conducting a large-scale exercise “Tropex”, has taken an “administrative pause”, which actually means switching from training to operational mode. And, commercial flight tracking software has detected Indian “airborne early warning and control” aircraft patrolling the Indo-Pakistan border. 


  1. 1. The Balakot that is 80km from LoC is deep inside Pakistan? What is Bahawalpur then? What about Quetta and Peshawar then, very deep, ultra deep?

    2. If 200-300 jihadis can be killed in one strike, and we kill 200-250 in a whole year in Kashmir would it not be borderline treasonous for the Indian govt to fail to repeat these ops and with 4-5 such strikes finish off all the jihadis that are threatening India?

    3. What is the source of the BDA estimate of 200-300 jihadis KIA. SIGINT? HUMINT? OSINT? Before we diss Pakistani sources, remember the only confirmation of Pak army casualties in the 2016 strikes came from them, and not from Indian or non-Pak sources.

    4. A Target 80km inside Pak is still within the Weapon Engagement Zone of a Popeye or SPICE weapon launched from either inside Indian airspace or 3-4 km ingress after crossing LoC.

  2. Four 1000 kg bombs were dropped by IAF jets on Balakot Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but I still wait to see the pictures of the extensive damage and the upto 300 dead.
    The IAF Mirage Jets flying at nearly 700mph from AFS Gwalior over Gulmarg and crossing the LOC over Muzzafarbad would be less than twenty minutes over Pakistan territory, that is flying at low level inside Pakistan for approx 115km to target and return.
    What I can see from the pictures are craters in forests, which may be that of an Arcole 1000 Kg laser-guided penetration bomb.
    India has been flying Mirage 2000 over Kashmir valley as a decoy from central India for the past week, AWACS have been in the air off and on for the past week too.
    Perhaps all this extra BSF deployment, cancellation of leave, ration scarce in the valley was to make Pakistan believe that there was going to be a land attack over the LOC. The militant camps near the border had been emptied by the enemy.
    Pakistan has giver priority to protecting its nuclear arsenal and most of its air defence systems are focused on this and not protecting militant camps.
    Pakistan did manage to scramble two F16 but it’s difficult to intercept the IAF fast flying Mirage 2000 on a six minute straight line 80km return run, back to the Indian border.
    I am sure Broadsword when he gets the evidence of the dead militants in Blalkot will post in this blog or publish in the Business Standard for now I believe four bombs were dropped deep in Pakistan and the IAF Mirage were in Pakistan Airspace for approximately 20min making this alone a serious escalation which the Pak Chief will give serious thought.

  3. NSR says ---

    Rest in Peace 40 Brave hearts and heartfelt sympathies to all those injured brave soldiers...

    Congratulations to IAF for responding to the JEM suicide bombing...

    I ask all journalists to stop addressing these terrorists as "Maulana"...
    MIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi says these are not Maulanas... these are Satan … I agree fully...
    Also stop referring Umer Farooq as Mirwaiz.. so they will get some lessons...

    I hope Col. Shukla shows some pride and drops Maulana title in his next articles...

  4. NSR says ---

    I was born in Telangana and raised in Hyderabad where Owaisis are a fixture... They are Indian patriots too...

    I hope you stop putting Maulana, Maulvi, Mirwaiz, etc in front of terrorists names... You gotta show some spine...

    Time stop glorifying terrorists...

  5. Sir, could you please tell us why Sukhoi's or the Mig's weren't used here.

  6. Pakistan was to take journalists to the area of the IAF bombing, but had delayed due to bad weather. Please note that weather in Manshera today is a cool 55 F. Sunny.

    Circumstantial evidence perhaps.....cleanup not finished?

  7. 2. If 200-300 jihadis can be killed in one strike, and we kill 200-250 in a whole year in Kashmir would it not be borderline treasonous for the Indian govt to fail to repeat these ops and with 4-5 such strikes finish off all the jihadis that are threatening India?

    --- There is an unlimited supply of poor, unemployed, disaffected, hungry, brainwashed young men in Pakistan.



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