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Government says Jaish-e-Mohammad camp in Balakot bombed, several terrorists and leaders killed

Camp was headed by the brother-in-law of Jaish chief Maulana Masood Azhar

By The Telegraph in New Delhi
  • Published 26.02.19, 12:37 PM
  • Updated 26.02.19, 12:45 PM
  • 2 mins read
  •  
Indian foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale in New Delhi briefs the media on India's air strike on a Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camp on February 26. PTI

The Indian government has confirmed that in a "non-military pre-emptive action", air force jets struck the "biggest Jaish-e-Mohammad facility near Balakot in early hours of Tuesday, in which top leaders have been eliminated". 

The air strike come 12 days after a suicide bomb attack on February 14 in Kashmir that killed 40 CRPF personnel in Pulwama. The strike has also been conducted at a time the country faces general elections.

Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale, who held the news conference, said that "India calls it non-military pre-preemptive action to counter multiple potential fidayeen attacks".

He said the air force struck Jaish's training camp in the Mansehra district of Khyber Pakhtunwa (KPK) because it had intelligence reports that more than 300 terrorists were being trained for imminent strikes in India.

"Large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders were eliminated," Gokhale said, adding that the camp was headed by Maulana Yusuf Azhar, alias Ustad Ghauri, the brother-in-law of Masood Azhar, the chief of the Jaish-e-Mohammad.

"The Government of India is firmly and resolutely committed to take all necessary measures to fight the menace of terrorism. Hence, this non-military pre-emptive action was specifically targeted at the Jaish-e-Mohammad camp," he said. 

He said this camp was targeted "conditioned by our desire to avoid civilian casualties. The facility is located in thick forest, on a hill top, far away from any civilian presence".

But he did not give any information on who were eliminated in the strike, saying that as the operation was conducted this morning, "we are awaiting further details". 

The military operation began at 3.30 am as planes pounded camps in Balakot, Muzaffarabad and Chakoti, sources said.

Some Indian reports said as many as 200-300 people were killed in the strike that used laser-guided bombs, but Pakistan denied any damage or casualties.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a high-level security meeting on the attack in New Delhi on Tuesday morning with Union ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and Arun Jaitley along with Gokhale in attendance.

Some news agencies quoted the sources as saying "1,000 kg bombs were dropped on terror camps across the LoC".

Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said “India should not dare challenge us.”

Major General Asif Ghafoor, director general of Pakistan’s Inter Service Public Relations of the Pakistan Armed Forces, said in a tweet that the IAF had "violated the Line of Control" and that the Pakistan Air Force "immediately scrambled" jets into the air.

In another tweet, Ghafoor said the Indian aircraft had "intruded from Muzaffarabad sector" but "facing timely and effective response from Pakistan Air Force released payload" -- military terminology for a warhead or bomb -- "in haste while escaping." 

There were "no casualties or damage" from the attack which "fell in open" terrain, he said.

Balakot lies 50 km from the LoC. India and Pakistan keep a no-fly zone on each side of the LoC to make sure no military accident occurs between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

Pakistan said the army and air force were planning a joint news conference.

After the terrorist bombing in Pulwana, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had declared the Indian Army could respond to the attack in "the manner and time of their choosing".

There has been heavy shelling and firing along the LoC in recent days while villages in border areas were reportedly told to be ready "for any eventuality."

The Pakistan armed forces posted photographs on Twitter of a muddy wooded area with craters that it said was where the Indian fighter jets had struck.

Two years ago in the wake of another big attack against Indian military forces, India said its soldiers staged a "surgical strike" on suspected terrorist camps across the LoC but Pakistan dismissed India's claims that any serious damage had been caused.

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