An airstrike on a militant camp in killed “a very large number” of fighters preparing an attack on India, a senior foreign ministry official said after Pakistan accused it of crossing into its airspace.
Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale told a media briefing that the raid on the Jaish-e-Mohammad camp at Balkot was launched because New Delhi believed suicide attacks in India were “imminent.”
“A very large number of Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen [suicide] action were eliminated,” he said on Tuesday, February 26.
Vijay Gokhale: In an intelligence lead operation in the early hours today, India struck the biggest training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammed in Balakot. In this operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commander & Jihadis were eliminated pic.twitter.com/bdHGdZLhdU
— ANI (@ANI) February 26, 2019
“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,” said Gokhale.
“In the face of imminent danger, a preemptive strike became absolutely necessary. In an intelligence-led operation, in the early hours of today, India struck the biggest training camp of JeM in Balakot.”
JeM claimed responsibility for a February 14 suicide bomb attack in Kashmir that killed 40 Indian paramilitaries.
Earlier, Pakistan accused Indian warplanes of crossing into its airspace over the ceasefire line in Kashmir before dropping the payloads.
“Indian Air Force violated Line of Control,” Pakistan military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor tweeted, referring to the de facto border between Indian- and Pakistani-administered Kashmir.
Pakistan Air Force jets were scrambled in response to the incursion, Ghafoor said.
“Facing timely and effective response from Pakistan Air Force [the Indian aircraft] released payload in haste while escaping near Balakot. No casualties or damage.”
Ghafoor tweeted images of what he said was the payload, showing what appeared to be pieces of metal in a heavily forested area.
Payload of hastily escaping Indian aircrafts fell in open. pic.twitter.com/8drYtNGMsm
— Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor (@OfficialDGISPR) February 26, 2019
He did not initially provide further information on the location, and whether it was a town of that name in Pakistani-administered Kashmir or further into its territory.
Balakot town is in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, some 40 km (25 miles) northeast of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir.
A strike that deep in Pakistani territory, and not in a disputed region like Kashmir, would be a major escalation, analysts said.
In a later tweet, however, the Pakistani spokesperson said the incursion was “within AJ&K” – referring to the formal name of Pakistani Kashmir – and just three to four miles over the LoC.
Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since independence from Britain in 1947. Both claim the Himalayan region and have fought two wars over the territory.
New Delhi accuses Pakistan of harboring the militant group and has vowed retaliation to avenge the deaths.
Pakistan has denied a role in the February 14 attack near Srinagar, insisting the Islamist group is a proscribed “terrorist organization.”
JeM is one of several militant groups fighting Indian troops in Kashmir, with the rebels experiencing a resurgence after a popular rebel commander’s death in 2016 triggered months of mass street protests.
On February 19, Indian Army Lieutenant General Kanwal Jeet Singh Dhillon said soldiers had killed JeM’s “chief operations commander” in Kashmir, who he blamed for planning the bombing, along with two other militants.
With reporting from AFP