New Delhi/Islamabad, Feb 26 : India on Tuesday launched air strikes against the biggest training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad in Balakot in Pakistan's north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, killing "a very large number" of terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis.
Tuesday's air strikes are the first launched across the Line of Control and 12 days after the Pulwama suicide attack in which over 40 CRPF personnel were killed.
Reports quoting "sources' said over 300 militants were killed in the "intelligence-led" operation.
Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale termed the airstrike as “non-military, preemptive" action, and said it was absolutely necessary as the government had “credible intelligence” that Jaish-e-Mohammad was attempting more suicide terror attacks in various parts of the country and fidayeen jihadis were being trained for this purpose.
He said the terror camp that was destroyed. It was run by Masood Azhar’s brother-in-law, Maulana Yousuf Azhar.
According to information, 12 Indian Air Force Mirage jets dropped 1,000 kg laser-guided bombs at various vulnerable camps at Balakot, and also Chakkoti and Muzaffarabad.
Residents of Balakot told BBC Urdu they were woken by loud explosions.
Hours after the entire operation was over, Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a political rally in Rajasthan said "the world is watching India's power" and that he would not let his country down and that the country was in the "safe hands".
The strikes were a combined mission carried out by air fighters, early warning system aircraft and mid air refueller jets, highly placed sources in the defence establishment said.
The Mirage 2000s took off in batches while early warning system aircraft took off from another airfield. A mid-air refuelling tanker also took off from another location.
Heron surveillance drone took off from a secret airfield before the airstrike to take final survey of the targets.
Pakistan’s Saab 2000 airborne early warning and control aircraft managed to detect the IAF Mirage 2000 but Pakistani F16s, which were scrambled to retaliate, turned back due to the size of the Indian formation.
Pakistan has acknowledged the strikes carried out in the region. However, Pakistan army said that the Indian aircraft “intruded” from Muzaffarabad sector and “released payload”.
The phrase “released payload” suggests huge bombing.
Major General Asif Ghafoor, spokesperson of Pakistan Armed Forces, claimed there was "no casualties or damage”.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi accused India of committing "grave aggression," saying his country had the right to give an appropriate response.
"India has violated the Line of Control and Pakistan has the right to self-defence," Qureshi told the state TV after presiding over an emergency meeting in Islamabad to review the situation after the Indian Air Force's "intrusion" into the Pakistani side of the LoC.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has summoned special meeting of the National Command Authority on Wednesday and directed that elements of national power, including the Armed Forces, and the people of Pakistan to remain prepared for all eventualities.
China, a close ally of Pakistan, meanwhile called for restraint from both sides.
"India and Pakistan are both important countries in South Asia. To maintain good relations and communication is conducive to regional security," Lu Kang, a spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a regular press conference, State-owned China Global Television Network reported.
Gokhale said the Indian government is firmly and resolutely committed to taking all necessary measures to fight the menace of terrorism.
He briefed foreign diplomats from the US, UK, China, Russia, Australia, Indonesia,Turkey and six Asean nations about the Indian air strike across the LOC in Balakot.
India has placed its Air Bases in Jammu, Udhampur, Rajouri put on high alert while all ranked officers have been told to remain on alert.
The Border Security Force (BSF) is also on highest alert on Northern and Western international border, a senior Home Ministry official said.
Punjab, Delhi, Mumbai and other metro cities have also been put on highest alert. Places of high footfalls like airports, railway stations, bus terminus and shopping complexes are under tight security by the local police and central paramilitary forces.
Soon after the air strike all the air defense system along the International Border and Line of Actual Control is fully activated to thwart any retaliation from Pakistan.