On this day, last year, the Indian Air Force fighter jets carried out cross-border airstrikes to pulverise the Jaish-e-Muhammad training camp situated deep inside Pakistan, in Balakot. The attack, first of its kind on Pakistani soil, was authorised in response to the Pulwama attack by Jaish-e-Muhammad on February 14, 2019, which claimed 40 CRPF personnel’s lives.
Shortly after an indoctrinated terrorist rammed an explosive-laden car into one of the vehicles of the CRPF convoy, killing 40 CRPF soldiers, the Indian Prime Minister had summoned a CCS meeting to take stock of the situation and discuss the various retaliatory options at India’s disposal. In an ANI report, Air Marshal C Hari Kumar has revealed how the events had unfolded at that time.
According to Air Marshal C Hari Kumar, who headed the IAF’s western command during the operation last year, on 15th February, a day after the ghastly terror attack, the Chief of Air Staff at the Western Command was briefed as to what are the options available.
“At that stage, we had a specific set of targets to be addressed. However, on February 18, we got a very strong and credible intelligence input on Balakot which was conveyed to the leadership. The intelligence input provided by Research& Analysis Wing was very accurate and specific. It not only had coordinates that are most important for carrying out such attacks but it also provided with excellent imagery and reliable ground shots of the target,” Kumar said to ANI.
Considering the distance involved, the Air Force was selected for the operation after zeroing in on the targets, he added. Further due-diligence was done to ascertain the designated mean point in the impact of those targets. Regarding the question as to how Mirage 2000 were finalised for the operation, Kumar said, “Looking at the geographic location of Balakot, which is 50 km inside Pakistan, Mirage 2000 was the only option that carried SPICE and Crystal Maze which gave us a significantly larger stand-off.”.
When sought details about how the operation came to be called as “Bandar”, Kumar recalled that the word ‘Bandar” was a codeword to relay the success of the mission. “I distinctly remember. It was on the 25th of February. My farewell was going on at a large banquet when the Air Chief came and took me along the lawn to reconfirm if all the preparations are done. During that time, he told me that when the operation is over and our men have safely landed back, just give me a call. If you say “Bandar”, I will presume everything has gone smoothly and the operation is a success,” Kumar said.
As per the Operation, Mirages got airborne from Gwalior airbase and travelled north towards the Bareilly sector. From Bareilly, they travelled further north, taking advantage of the mountainous terrain, and continued their flight upwards of Srinagar in the direction of Balakot.
Talking about minutes before the final moments, Kumar said, “The first bomb impact was 0328. At 0305, PAF scrambled 2 F-16s at the Indian Mirages. However, to thwart their attempts to foil the operation, a decoy was set as we launched four Jaguars from Ambala and two Su-30 Combat Air Patrols(CAPs) at high speed towards Bhawalpur, another major location for JeM training camp. The decoy was successful as two F-16s broke the pattern and flew at high speed southwards. The Indian fleet of aircraft attacked and destroyed the designated targets and landed back at around 0400.”
Kumar also spoke about the possible number of terrorists eliminated in the operation and the consequences of the airstrikes carried out on the enemy soil. “We had an intelligence input about a great number of people present at the Jaish’s facility in Balakot. I think maybe 500 to 600 terrorists were eliminated in the operation. The operation marks a paradigm shift in India’s approach in dealing with cross-border terrorism. We have conveyed them in the strongest term that a terrorist attack on Indian soil is no longer acceptable and will exact punitive measures. Since the Balakot airstrikes, there have been no terror attacks throughout the year. The message is loud and clear. India has the resolve and ability to take swift action against terror attacks. Next time it happens, we will hit them even harder,” Kumar said.