After the Pulwama Attack on February 14, Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) was tasked to identify the targets. Balakot – the oldest one run by the LeT, HuM and JeM – was at the top of a list of six. It was run by Yusuf Azhar, who was not just the brother-in-law of Jaish’s founder Masood Azhar, but also the man who plotted his escape from India.
Meanwhile, after the car bombing, more suicide attackers and fidayeen jehadis were summoned to Balakot by Jaish-e-Mohammad. Balakot runs a complete program of terror for its recruits. It has three levels of courses – Daura-e-Aaam, Daura-e-Khas and Daura-e-Zarar which is the highest degree of advancement. Over 100 new recruits joined the camp.
The aim was another, or possibly many Balakots.
The goals of the strikes were clear – (1) Cripple Jaish (2) Do proportional damage (3) Without any civilian casualty and (4) Action should not be a revenge but should be seen in line with India’s right to self defense.
The strikes were approved on February 18. And from February 25th, every night Indian Air Force started flying sorties. But nothing happened. That not just made Pakistanis anxious but confused.
On February 25th, once the intelligence and the PM learnt of the presence of 300-350 terrorists in Balakot, the PM gave a go-ahead. Only 7 people were kept in confidence throughout – Narendra Modi, Ajit Doval, the three service chiefs, and the heads of RAW and Intelligence Bureau.
Late at night at 1.30am on February 26, Mirages took off from Gwalior and the Sukhois took off from other bases. A total of 11 fighters did the whole operations in a period of two and a half hours that ended when the aircrafts landed at 4.00am. The following aircrafts were involved:
- Mirage 2000s and 2000is to carry out the attack
- Sukhoi 30s MKI to act as decoys and also to provide cover if the Mirages were intercepted
- Phalcon AWACS and Embraer AEWS mid-air refuellers (two were used)
- Heron drones for taking photographs of the targets after the attack
In the operation, Indian Air Force’s Tiger Squadron used four Mirage 2000 fighters launched Crystal Maze missiles and/or SPICE 2000 smart bombs at Balakot’s Markaz Syed Ahmad Shaheed training camp in Manshera, Pakistan.
As per the photographic evidence, which will not be shared with the media, the strikes killed 325 terrorists and their recruits and handlers including dreaded terrorists like Maulana Yusuf Azhar Mufti Omar, Maulana Jawed, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Kashmiri, Maulana Aslam, Maulana Ajmal and Maulana Zubair.
That evening on February 25, Modi knew that the attack would begin in a few hours. He, along with Ajit Doval, Air Chief BS Dhanoa, Army chief Bipin Rawat and Navy chief Sunil Lanba stayed awake monitoring the entire situation to be ready for attack on and escalation from any of the other forces.
After the attack, India’s NSA Ajit Doval called up his US counterpart John Bolton via phone and apprised him of the strike and India’s right for self defense.
This is how the strike was completed successfully.