WAR: India strikes; takes Pakistan by surprise!
Pakistan rejects India's claim but denies its claim saying, will respond ‘when and where it wants?’
New Delhi/Islamabad, Feb 26: In a swift air strike that lasted less than two minutes, India claimed it pounded “Jaish-e-Mohammed's biggest training camp” in Pakistan early Tuesday, “killing up to 350 terrorists and trainers who were moved there for their protection after the Pulwama attack.”
The pre-dawn operation, described as "non-military" and "preemptive", struck a “five-star resort style camp” on a hilltop forest that provided Indian forces with a "sitting duck target" and caught the “terrorists in their sleep”, sources said.
The country is in safe hands and “he will not let the country down,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a public rally in Churu, Rajasthan, in his first remarks after the strike. He, however, did not make a direct reference to the attack or give any details.
Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale told the media the "intelligence-led operation" on the Pakistan-based militant group's biggest training camp in Balakot became "absolutely necessary" as it was planning more suicide attacks in India, after the February 14 attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama in which 49 soldiers were killed. The JeM claimed responsibility for the Pulwama attack.
Gokhale said the camp was located in Balakot but did not elaborate further. Sources said the reference was to the town in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, about 80 km from the Line of Control and near Abbotabad where Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was killed in hiding by US forces.
Gokhale also did not give details of how the attacks were carried out but sources said a group of Mirage 2000 jets was used to drop bombs in the operation, which included various other aircraft.
This is the first time since the 1971 war that India has used air power against Pakistan.
“India received intelligence that the JeM had shifted many in-training terrorists and hardcore operatives, along with their trainers, to the camp, about 20 km from Balakot town, which has facilities for 500 to 700 people and even a swimming pool,” sources said.
“In a synchronised operation, fighter and other aircraft took off from several air bases in Western and Central commands at about the same time, leaving Pakistani defence officials confused about where they were heading,” they said.
A small group of aircraft broke away from the swarm and headed to Balakot where "the sleeping terrorists were sitting ducks for the Indian bombing," claimed one source.
The entire operation, it is learnt, was over in 20 minutes, starting at 3.45 am and ending at 4.05 am.
"Credible intelligence was received that JeM was attempting another suicide terror attack in various parts of the country, and the fidayeen jihadis were being trained for this purpose," Gokhale told the media.
In the face of imminent danger, a preemptive strike became "absolutely necessary", the Foreign Secretary said.
"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," he said, stressing that care was taken to avoid civilian casualties.
“At least 325 terrorists and 25 to 27 trainers were at the camp,” sources told PTI.
The facility at Balakot, located in a thick forest on a hilltop far from civilian presence, was headed by Maulana Yousuf Azhar, alias Ustad Ghouri, the brother-in-law of JeM chief Masood Azhar, he said, reading out from a statement.
The statement did not say if Yousuf Azhar was among those killed.
According to sources, militants in the Balakot camp “were imparted the advanced 'Daura-e-Khaas' training in weapons, explosives and field tactics, attack on convoys of security forces, planting and making of IEDs, suicide bombing, rigging vehicles for suicide attacks and survival tactics in high altitudes and extreme-stress situations.”
India, Gokhale said, expects Pakistan to dismantle all terror camps, including those of the JeM.
“The JeM has been active in Pakistan for the last two decades and has its headquarters in Bahawalpur in Pakistan's Punjab province,” he said in the statement.
He pointed out that the organisation is proscribed by the UN and has been responsible of a series of attacks, including on the Indian Parliament in December 2001 and the Pathankot airbase in January 2016.
In Islamabad, however, the narrative was different with officials saying there were no casualties or damages.
In an early morning tweet, Major General Asif Ghafoor, director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the Pakistan Army, said Indian aircrafts intruded from the Muzaffarabad sector.
"Facing timely and effective response from Pakistan Air Force released payload in haste while escaping which fell near Balakot. No casualties or damage," Ghafoor said in a tweet.
"Indian Air Force violated Line of Control Pakistan. Pakistan Air Force immediately scrambled. Indian aircraft gone back," he claimed.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi called an "emergency meeting" at the Foreign Office for consultations, sources in Islamabad said.
Meanwhile, Pakistan on Tuesday strongly rejected India's claim of targeting militant camp in the country and causing heavy casualties even as it vowed to respond "at the time and place of its choosing" and raise the issue at the United Nations and other international forums.
At a hurriedly called special meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) hours after India's air strikes inside Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan asked the armed forces and the people of his country to remain prepared for "all eventualities."
"The forum (NSC) strongly rejected Indian claim of targeting an alleged terrorist camp near Balakot and the claim of heavy casualties. Once again Indian government has resorted to a self-serving, reckless and fictitious claim," said a statement issued after the NSC meeting in Islamabad.
The country's top civil and military brass "concluded that India has committed uncalled for aggression to which Pakistan shall respond at the time and place of its choosing," it added.
It also invited the world media to see the facts on ground and proposed a visit to the site.
Citing sources, Geo TV reported that Pakistan will raise the issue of India's "violation" of the LoC at the United Nations, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and other international forums. The decision was taken at the NSC meeting chaired by Prime Minister Khan.
The NSC statement claimed that India's "action has been done for domestic consumption being in election environment, putting regional peace and stability at grave risk."
The government has decided to requisition a joint session of the Parliament on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Khan also summoned a special meeting of the National Command Authority (NCA) on Wednesday.
The Foreign Office summoned India's acting High Commissioner here and condemned the "violation of its territorial sovereignty" by Indian jets.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Army confirmed that Indian jets dropped "four bombs" during an operation on Tuesday but downplayed its significance, saying the Indian attack was repulsed and while going back the aircraft "jettisoned their payload."
Army spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor also said that Pakistan will "surprise" India with its response that will be in all domains including "diplomatic, political and military."
"We will surprise you and wait for the surprise. (Our) response will come and it will be different.
"Our response will be in all domains including diplomatic, political and military," the General added.
He claimed that the Indian planes were in Pakistan's airspace for "just 4 minutes" and went back when challenged by the Pakistani aircraft.
Ghafoor said that Indian jets first tried to enter Lahore-Sialkot sector, while another formation of jets came close to Okara-Bahawalpur area of international border but found Pakistan Air Force ready and went back.
"Then a third formation was picked in Muzaffarabad sector which was heavier...It was repulsed, but while going back they jettisoned their payload and four bombs fell in Jabba, near the town of Balakot, causing no casualties or damage," he said.
Addressing a joint press conference with the ministers of defence and finance, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi asserted that Pakistan will "respond to the Indian aggression."
Responding to questions, Qureshi claimed that "multi-dimensional intrusion" was attempted by the Indian jets. "But the intervention by Pakistani jets forced them to return back within minutes."
He dismissed the notion that Pakistan Air Force (PAF) jets were late in responding to the Indian attack, saying PAF jets were "ready" and "air-borne."
Flanked by Defence Minister Pervaiz Khattack and Finance Minister Asad Umar, Qureshi dismissed Indian claim of destroying militant camps of banned JeM in Balakot. "There was no presence of any such camp(s)," he asserted.
"The Indian planes entered some three to four kilometers inside Pakistani air space and released payload when Pakistan Air Force plane scrambled," he said.
Qureshi also warned India not to underestimate Pakistan.
"Do not underestimate us. We have our own sense of timing and we will act and react. Pakistan will do what Pakistan should do," he said and added "we will not disappoint the people of Pakistan."
He also said that he has spoken to the foreign minister of the UAE and expressed Pakistan's reservations for inviting Indian foreign minister as chief of guest in the OIC meeting scheduled early next month.
Qureshi faced tough questions from journalists forcing him to end his media interaction abruptly.
When a journalist asked Qureshi to tell as why a "well-prepared Pakistan Air Force could not hit a single intruding Indian aircraft", Qureshi chided him, "you are a Pakistani and respect the ability of the Pakistan Air Force. Escalation was not our purpose."
When another journalist asked him to comment on India's claim that the JeM camps were destroyed by the Indian jets, Queshi taunted saying "you shouldn't put such questions."
Describing the situation following the Indian air strikes as "serious", Qureshi said that Prime Minister Khan also had telephonic conversations with UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan as well as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman over the issue.