The Balakot air-strike in Pakistan occurred on 26th February 2019, when twelve Mirage 2000H jets of the Indian Air Force crossed the Line of Control in Kashmir to perform an air-strike on a terrorist training camp inside Pakistan. The airstrikes were a retaliation for an attack on its paramilitary forces in Pulwama, which took place two weeks prior on 14th February, 2019. Of the twelve jets, at least four crossed the Line of Control (LoC), to varying distances, to release their payloads. The Indian government stated that it was a “preemptive non military air strike” based on credible intelligence that another attack on India was being planned by the terrorist organization, Jaish-e-Mohammed. It was the first time since the war of 1971 that Indian Air Force aircraft had crossed the Line of Control and the first time since both states had become nuclear powers.
According to India, the jets struck a JeM-operated militant camp at Balakot killing a very large number of militants and returned into Indian airspace unharmed without being engaged by Pakistani aircraft. Pakistan conceded the violation of their airspace near Muzaffarabad but denied the claim that India targeted an alleged terrorist camp. When questioned as to why the Pakistani Air Force did not respond, Pakistani authorities stated that the Indian jets were moving too fast and it was that too dark to see anything.
Following the unprecedented air-strikes by IAF on Pakistani territory, at least ten to fifteen PAF F-16 jets tried to intrude into Indian airspace on the morning of 27th February, 2019 and attempted to target military installations. However, their movement was detected by Indian radars and the attack was thwarted by an IAF patrol squadron consisting of four Sukhoi 30-MKI and 2 MiG-21 aircraft. PAF jets used H4 standoff munitions to target Army positions but they were intercepted and the bombs fell in the open. A dog-fight ensued in which a PAF F-16 was shot down by a MiG-21 piloted by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. Unfortunately the Indian MiG also encountered a technical glitch and the pilot had to eject. Strong winds carried him to the other side of the LoC, inside Pakistani territory where he was intercepted by locals and subsequently by the Pakistani army. Although the fighter pilot was initially man-handled and put under tremendous mental pressure by the Pakistani military establishment, he was later released on 1st March, 2019 after India and numerous other countries put political pressure on Pakistan citing Geneva Conventions. Subsequent to the incident, Indian and Pakistani troops shelled each other across the Line of Control leading to damage of property and loss of civilians and military personnel on either side.
The Indian Air Force initially did not reveal the details of the casualties and extent of damage due to security concerns arising out of the sensitive nature of the issue. However, in order to counter contrarian claims, the IAF provided proof of the air-strikes in the form of satellite imagery, intercepted mobile signals and radio communications between terrorists and their handlers. The IAF used SPICE-2000 precision-guided glide bombs, weighing 1,000 kg and having a range of up to 100 km. Most of the bombs consisted of penetrators to pierce hardened structures, while the actual explosive quantity was about 90 kg. An official was quoted as saying, “The IAF didn’t go in for propaganda bombing. The objective was to hit the targets but avoid collateral damage to possible non-militant staff in adjacent buildings. The munitions were chosen accordingly.”. “During the air strike on Balakot in Pakistan, the Indian Air Force (IAF) went in for clinical precision and hit all intended targets”, another senior defence official added. In all, the IAF hit four buildings, two of which were the main training complex and the other, a seminary where religious training was imparted. The other two targets included accommodation for the cadres. The buildings were not reinforced structures but conventional structures with metal or cement roofs, and the bombs sliced through inside and only exploded after hitting a hard surface.
The Indian Air Force also showed tail units of the H4 bombs and pieces of AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile) fired by the Pakistani F-16’s. Questions have been raised about the aggressive role in which the PAF F-16’s were deployed against Indian military establishments. The United States has clearly stated that Pakistan should not use the F-16’s, which were delivered as part of US aid, against India which is a US ally. The IAF air-strikes has demonstrated India’s military might and political will to act against both state and non-state actors who attempt to violate the nation’s integrity and harm her people and/or interests.