12 Mirage 2000 fighter jets from the IAF struck a major Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) camp across the LoC at 3.30 am and destroyed it, the Indian foreign secretary confirmed on Tuesday morning.
The pre-dawn operation saw 1000 kg bombs being dropped to target the camp that the foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale said was situated on a hilltop in a jungle in Balakot.
Hundreds of Fidayeen and their trainers were shifted from PoK to a five-star, resort-style camp in a hilltop forest in Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province after the Pulwama attack, providing Indian forces with “a sitting duck target” when they carried out an air strike early Tuesday, killing up to 350 terrorists, sources said.
Maulana Yusuf Azhar alias Ustad Ghauri, the brother-in-law of JeM chief Masood Azhar, was said to be in charge of the camp where suicide bombers were being prepared to launch the next wave of attacks on India. Around 300 terrorists including Yusuf Azhar were reportedly killed in the bombing that lasted one-and-a-half minutes.
“The selection of the target was also conditioned by our desire to avoid civilian casualties. It’s located in a deep forest on a hilltop,” Gokhale underlined.
The attack was termed a “non-military pre-emptive strike” by Gokhale who hoped that Pakistan will now live up to its promise of fighting terror and destroy the remaining infrastructure of the terror groups.
Earlier, flight-tracking websites had spotted heightened activity along the border with an IAF early warning plane Emb 145 and mid-air refueller circling the area early in the morning.
The attack comes in the wake of the suicide bombing attack on a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy in Pulwama on February 14 that killed 40 jawans.
The attack was claimed by Pakistan-based militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), and prompted a spike in tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
A 20-minute operation by IAF: The operation by the IAF including takeoff and return time took only 20 minutes, say media reports. The last time the IAF had crossed the LoC with Mirage aircraft was during the 1971 war.
According to reports, Pakistan scrambled its F16s to take on the IAF Mirage jets but had to turn back due to the size of the IAF formation coordinated by the Western Air Command.
Pakistan reacts to IAF attack, threatens retaliation
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Tuesday said India has committed “aggression” by violating the LoC and Islamabad has “right to respond”.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan convened an emergency meeting to review the emerging situation in the wake of the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) violation of the Line of Control, Radio Pakistan reported.
Interestingly, Pakistan army spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor was the first to officially confirm that the Indian Air Force has intruded from the Muzaffarabad sector. However, he denied that there was an attack on any Pakistani infrastructure.
In his tweet, Asif Ghafoor said, “Indian Air Force violated Line of Control. Pakistan Air Force immediately scrambled. Indian aircrafts gone back. Indian aircrafts 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.”
He further said, “Indian aircrafts’ intrusion across LOC in Muzaffarabad Sector within AJ&K (as the Pakistanis call the area) 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.”
Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi says India has created “hysteria” in the wake of this month’s attack on Indian troops in the disputed Kashmir region.