“It was over in 90 seconds; we released the weapon and we turned back,” said one of the Mirage 2000 fighter pilots, asking not to be named. In first such accounts of the Balakot airstrikes, pilots reveal to the Hindustan Times, details of the operation which was carried out in the wee hours of 26th of February.
“No one, not even my close family knew,” the IAF pilot said. “Next day, when news broke, my wife asked me whether I was part of the attack. I kept quiet and slept off,” he added.
Tensions between India and Pakistan rose to dangerous levels after the deadly terror attack by the Pakistan based terror group, Jaish-e-Mohammed (literally “The Army of Muhammad”) in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir which killed more than 40 soldiers of the Central Reserve Police Force. After the attack, India promptly assessed the situation and in a pre-emptive anti–terror airstrikes, the Indian Air Force destroyed a major terror camp in Balakot, Pakistan, in which, according to intelligence reports, around 300 terrorists were killed. The Indian forces successfully entered Pakistani territory and destroyed terror camps without being detected by Pakistan’s air defence radar systems.
Pakistan, staying with its long-standing policy of denial, maintained that no terror establishment had been attacked and Indian Air Force had just hit a few trees. While the international community stood firmly with India and voiced support for India’s anti-terror stance, Pakistan continued to march on, denying the airstrikes. The Indian Air Force showed the reporters of several media houses, the high-resolution satellite pictures possessed by the IAF which according to India Today showed three holes in the roof of one of the buildings. These holes were reported as a “classic signature of a SPICE bomb strike”.
Francesca Marino, an Italian journalist, after the pre-emptive strike of Indian Air force, told the WION TV channel that her source had confirmed that the death toll in the IAF strike was between 40 and 50. She also claimed that 35 to 40 people had been injured in the strike. “…the area had already been cordoned off by then by the army, who did not even allow police to enter. The army also took away mobile phones from the medical staff on the ambulances,” she had said.
Another Squadron Leader described the operation, he said, “We flew a lot of Combat Air Patrols (CAP) mostly along Line of Control (LoC).”. India flew a numerous CAP’s along the LoC in a bid to throw off Pakistani air defenses.
“We knew something was happening, but no one had a clear picture. Number of sorties had increased manifold. Many of us were flying multiple sorties,” the second pilot said.
“While previous CAPs and sorties were without weapons, on [February] 25 at about 4pm, the Spice-2000 [missiles] was loaded on to the Mirage 2000s. The specific coordinates of the terror training camp were fed into the weapon systems,” he said. “We took off at 2am that night.”
According to an Indian Express report the Mirage 2000s were carrying SPICE 2000 & Popeye precision-guided munitions and that they were supported by four Sukhoi Su-30MKI, Netra and Phalcon airborne early warning and control aircraft, an IAI Heron UAV and two Ilyushin Il-78 aerial refueling aircraft.
Talking about the tactical planning behind the operation, the pilot said, “We deliberately took a long route, flying over the eastern part of the country and when we arrived in Kashmir, we went into radio silence,” the first pilot said. “Importantly, Pakistani fighters were nowhere near us,” he added. Finally talking about the end results the pilot said, “Of course, they (missiles) hit. We had the bull’s eye.”
These revelations by IAF pilots not only point towards the absolute success of the airstrikes but also expose Pakistan’s long-standing denial of the existence of terror training camps operating out of its sovereign territory. The revelations also expose the skeptics in the opposition who questioned the Modi government over the veracity of the airstrikes.