Twelve days after Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) carried out a deadly terror attack in Pulwama killing 44 CRPF men, Indian fighter jets on Tuesday pre-dawn executed pin-pointed punitive strikes deep inside Pakistan territory against terror groups’ training camps eliminating around 325 of their cadre.

India termed the action as “preemptive” and “non-military” to deter JeM from carrying out suicide attacks in the country. It was not clear whether JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar’s brother-in-law Maulana Yusuf Azhar, alias Ustad Ghouri, was killed in the IAF attack.

Precision guided ammunition and missiles were used to destroy the JeM’s biggest terror camp in Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KPK) located at the tri-junction of Pakistan Punjab and KPK. Using air power for the first time since the 1971 war with Pakistan, India conducted “intelligence-led” operation. In fact, the IAF was not allowed to cross the Line of Control (LoC) even at the height of the Kargil war in 1999.

The punitive strikes were carried out by at least 12 Mirage-2000 jets at 3.40 am. The terror camp in Balakot is located about 60 km as the crow flies from the LoC in Uri in Kashmir, sources said.

The actual bombing at the terror camp was over in 90 seconds and at least five to six Mirages were in Pakistani territory for not more than six to seven minutes. The entire operation including the Mirages taking off from various locations close to the LoC to confuse the Pakistan Air

Force (PAF) lasted about 20 minutes and all the aircraft landed back safely.

The Pakistan Army alleged the strike was futile. “Indian aircraft intruded from Muzafarabad sector. Facing timely and effective response from PAF, they released payload in haste while escaping which fell near Balakot. No casualties or damage,” said Major General Asif Ghafoor, Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), which is the media wing of the Pakistan Army.

Sources said at least two Mirages flew in a loop after radars picked them up in order to confuse Pakistani defences. Two other Mirages flying at low level slipped through the radar net and targeted the terror camp, sources said.

The Mirages also used electronic warfare to jam the enemy radars to enter Pakistani airspace and deployed the same tactics when PAF scrambled their F-16s near Balakot.

Also, some SU-30MKI, the frontline fighter jets, were deployed close to the LoC to take care of any retaliatory action by the PAF besides air borne early earning communication system aircraft hovered in Indian territory to feed real time situation about Pakistani defences to the Mirage formation, they said.

At least 1,000 kg of explosives were released by the IAF jets to destroy the camp.

While the mother base of Mirage-2000s is at Gwalior, more than 1,000 km from Balakot, the jets selected for the mission were shifted to some forward bases in Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab and Haryana shortly before the designated time. Mid-air refuellers provided fuel to the jets to sustain them for long in the air.

The Mirages also took off from various airbases to avoid Pakistan intelligence network, they said.

Giving details of the strikes and terming them as “non-military” apparently since the targets were not military, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said here credible intelligence was received that the JeM was planning to carry out other suicide attacks in India after the Pulwama bombing.

“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. In the face of imminent danger, a preemptive strike became absolutely necessary.

“In an intelligence led operation in the early hours of today (Tuesday), India struck the biggest training camp of JeM in Balakot,” Gokhale said.

“In this operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of Jihadists who were being trained for Fidayeen action were eliminated.” The Foreign Secretary said the suicide terror attack in Pulwama on February 14 was conducted by JeM.

He further said JeM has “been active in Pakistan for the last two decades, and is led by Masood Azhar with its headquarters in Bahawalpur.

This organisation, which is proscribed by the UN, has been responsible of a series of terrorist attacks including on the Indian Parliament in December 2001 and the Pathankot airbase in January 2016.

In this operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of Jihadists who were being trained for Fidayeen action were eliminated. This facility at Balakot was headed by Maulana Yousuf Azhar alias ustad Ghouri, the brother-in-law of Masood Azhar.

The Government of India is firmly and resolutely committed to taking all necessary measures to fight the menace of terrorism. Hence this non-military preemptive action was specifically targeted at the JeM camp. The selection of the target was also conditioned by our desire to avoid civilian casualties. The facility is located in thick forest on a hilltop far away from any civilian presence, he said.