- The strike took one-and-a-half minutes
- The fighter jets returned after a 19-minute operation
- Sources say fighters and other aircraft took off from several air bases
As Indian Air Force fighter jets crossed the Line of Control for the first time since 1971 and struck a terror camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammed around 3:30 am on Tuesday, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval tracked the operation real-time and even kept Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the loop, say top sources.
The strike in Pakistan's Balakot, around 80 km from Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir, was directed at the Jaish-e-Mohammed; the Pakistan-based terror outfit had owned responsibility for the February 14 suicide attack in which 40 CRPF soldiers were killed in Kashmir's Pulwama.
A day after the Pulwama terror attack, PM Modi chaired a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security, in which it was decided that India needs to send a strong message, say sources.
"PM spoke a dozen times on Pulwama in the meeting and the need for a strong reply. There was a need to send a message to the terrorists too," said sources.
Various options were considered, say top sources, adding that the "element of surprise" was supreme. The work was "done through several verticals and actionable intelligence was gathered".
Sources said the government considered the prevailing mood in the country, with people paying moving tributes to the CRPF soldiers who died in the Pulwama terror attack and demanding strong action.
Based on intelligence inputs over the last few days, Indian Air Force Mirage 2000 fighter jets dropped six bombs at the biggest camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammed in Balakot, killing over 300 terrorists including Jaish chief Masood Azhar's brother-in-law Yousuf Azhar, sources said. The camp was a training facility for suicide bombers.
The strike took one-and-a-half minutes and the fighter jets returned after a 19-minute operation, without a scratch or any casualty.
According to officials, everyone at the camp was "sleeping" and Pakistani defence establishment "had no clue" that the attack was coming so deep into their country because they had expected a surgical strike on camps in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir near the Line of Control.
But India had received information that Jaish had shifted many terrorists and hardcore operatives, along with their trainers, to the Balakot camp, which has facilities for 500 to 700 people, and even has a swimming pool along with cooks and cleaners.
Sources say fighters and other aircraft took off from several air bases at about the same time, leaving Pakistani defence officials confused about where they were heading.
A small group of aircraft broke away from the swarm and headed to Balakot where "the sleeping terrorists were sitting ducks for the Indian bombing," the Press Trust of India quoted a source as saying.
Balakot is some 80 km from the Line of Control near Abbotabad where Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in hiding by covert US forces who had also sneaked into Pakistan to carry out the operation.