New Delhi: It is four months since the Balakot operation when the Indian Air Force entered Pakistan and bombed a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror camp, new information with Times Now shows that the strike plans had to be changed at the last minute, thus leading to a dramatic twist.

Mirage-2000 fighters had already taken off for Balakot when the Indian Air Force realised that an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) had just been launched in Jammu and Kashmir. The Pakistan Air Force, seeing that a UAV was in the air, thought a surgical strike was happening (this was only 14 days after the Pulwama attack and Pakistan was on tenterhooks, knowing there could be one) quickly launched two F-16 fighter aircraft. "Pakistan thought a surgical strike, like the one two years ago, was happening. So, they launched their fighters," a senior official said.

The presence of F-16s would have been a problem for the Indian fighter-bombers going directly to Balakot; it would interfere with the operation. Pakistan would know the IAF was sending planes to strike targets. To move them away, the IAF quickly launched six Jaguar fighter bombers towards Lahore. While the Jaguars did not get as far as the international border, Pakistan probably imagined the target would be the Jaish-e-Mohammed headquarters in Bahawalpur, a logical assumption as the JeM had taken responsibility for the Pulwama attack. This is why the F-16s were pulled towards Lahore, allowing the Mirage-2000s (there were over 20 of them) a clear path to Balakot. 

The IAF maintains that the planes struck the targets as planned and intelligence estimates say that over 260 Jaish terrorists (including senior trainers, people being trained to be suicide bombers and administrative personnel) were eliminated in the attack. Six Mirage-2000s were carrying bombs, five of them eventually did strike; the others were for achieving aerial superiority over the region.

Why launch a UAV before such a critical operation? That is the price of secrecy. Over 20 Mirage-2000s were flying out to Balakot. They were readied, they were armed. The entire airbase would have known. Yet, the information did not go out. Outside Air HQ, the Western Air Command HQ and the base, nobody, even knew. The UAV was probably to put pressure on Pakistan, to keep its forces on tenterhooks. And it became, in a way, part of an operation.