The Balakot airstrike was carried out by the Indian air force on February 26, 2019, in Balakot, Pakistan. This strike was carried out against the region’s alleged Jaish E Mohammed terrorist group.
The successful air strike was done in retaliation to the Pulwama attacks on the Indian CRPF troops on February 14, 2019.
India had claimed the strikes to be completely non-military and targeting only the terrorist groups present in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Balakot.
Balakot is a small town that falls in the Mansehra district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.
In 2005, the town was hit by a devastating earthquake that destroyed most parts. This earthquake was more popularly known as the Kashmir earthquake of 2005.
However, Balakot has been rebuilt eventually, thanks to aid from the Pakistani government and the Saudi public assistance for Pakistan earthquake victims (SAPAPEV).
Balakot is widely known for people visiting Gilgit-Baltistan, a region that comes under the Pakistani government and is slowly gaining popularity in the tourism sector.
The first that comes into mind while talking about the history of Balakot is the famous battle of Balakot fought on May 6, 1831.
It was fought between the armies of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Syed Ahmad Barelvi, with the Sikhs eventually winning the battle and taking control of the region. The Sikhs ruled the province comfortably before the invasion of the British.
Under the leadership of James Abbot, the Britishers were able to gain maximum control of the land and kept the natives and the Sikh under their jurisdiction.
Many archaeologists have also found traces of terracotta in the higher mountainous regions of Balakot, which may give us an idea about the type of civilization present there during those times.
Geography, an essential factor:
The town of Balakot is situated on the banks of river Kunhar, which flows through almost the centre of the town. Later, it converges into river Jhelum.
Surrounded by mountains on all four sides, this small town has cold and chilly weather throughout the year, giving it a strategic and geographical advantage to set up military establishments.
However, the Balakot city is now expanding into various interior parts of Pakistan, and the spread has been immense.
Tension has always been present between the two countries borders for many years now, and now and then, we keep hearing about something or the other taking place near the international borders.
There were many such standoffs at the Line of Control between India and Pakistan, particularly in the year 2019 and in February, with ceasefire violations taking place frequently.
The major turning point and the cause of the entire Balakot airstrike was the Pulwama attack on February 14, about which more has been discussed later in the article.
The Balakot airstrike: ‘Operation Bandar’
Operation Bandar (monkey) was the codename given by the Indian air force to the Balakot airstrike. There was no reason for this codename, and it could have been anything.
The Balakot airstrike was a bombing raid carried out by Indian warplanes, mainly involving the Indian air force. Fighter planes were deployed from Indian bases with the sole purpose of crossing over to the other side and targeting militant establishments in Balakot.
This attack was done in the early hours of February 26, 2019, and was well planned. Important and high-level intelligence was provided to the Indian forces by the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of the Indian government. Many sources suggest that this attack caught our Pakistani counterparts napping.
This was the first time since the war between the two countries in 1971 that fighter planes had crossed over the Line of Control. The main target of the Indian fighter planes was to eliminate terrorist training facilities that the Jaish E Mohammed group had set up.
Reason for the airstrike:
As mentioned above, the airstrike was carried out to retaliate for the Pulwama attacks by the Indian Air force. This was realized by the Prime Minister and high ranking officers of the Indian Defense Forces. It was high time that India stopped keeping quiet and did something about all these terror activities taking place now and then.
On February 14, 2019, a military convoy carrying the Central Reserve Police Force of the 76th battalion from Jammu to Srinagar via National Highway 44 was attacked by a car carrying explosives, causing a huge blast and killing 40 of the men who were on board.
The perpetrator was found to be a suicide bomber who had links with the Jaish e Mohammed group, who later claimed responsibility for the attack. India blamed Pakistan for this attack, which they were totally against.
This attack certainly weakened the Indo-Pak relations even more, and hence Operation Bandar was launched.
The Indian air force deployed 12 of its Mirage 2000 jets for the mission, supported by 4 Sukhoi Su-30 MKI’a and Netra and a few refuelling aircrafts.
There was a group of 4 other Sukhoi’s who had set course from Punjab and entered the air space of Pakistan from a different region. The main purpose of this group was to distract the Pakistani defence aircraft from the main attack force and clear the path for them.
After confirmation that Indian aircraft had entered, the Pakistani Air Force deployed its F-16 planes to tackle them. The forces from both the countries did confront each other in aerial dogfights resulting in one of our Mig-21’s being brought down.
India had made it clear from the very beginning that this attack was carried out to target militant establishments which had set up camp in the area and not the military sources of Pakistan.
The Indian air force, in a statement, said that they had successfully carried out the strikes and were able to destroy a Jaish e Mohammed training camp. They also added that this destroyed target was a big and fully functional facility with a swimming pool, bunkers, and storehouses.
Certain satellite imageries have claimed to show that the dropped bombs hit great parts of a forest and also damaged a few buildings by its side.
European space imaging and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute were some of the western sources of these satellite images.
Planet Labs, an American Earth-imaging company, also joined the list with a few claims.
According to neutral sources, the bombings done by the Indian warplanes did not cause any casualties or harm except for damaging several trees in a wooded forest/area.
Claims by both the countries:
Pakistan claimed that the Indian air force did the bombings, the so-called Balakot airstrike failed to hit their desired targets, and all they managed to do was destroy open areas of land and natural vegetation.
With the help of the agencies mentioned above, they also claimed that there was no change in the shape of the land where the bombs dropped before and after the strike. Hence calling all other claims irrelevant.
However, India claimed that the images from before and after clearly showed that 4 buildings had been destroyed, and the marks of the SPICE bomb-dropping upon them were visible.
India looked at the Balakot airstrike as a complete success.
After this, both the countries tightened their defences along the borders.
The reaction of the rest of the world:
India received support from many foreign nations for its fight against terrorism, and they also accused Pakistan of aiding terrorism and terrorism-related activities in many ways.
All other nations were de-escalating the tension between the two countries and urged them not to take any serious actions.
The EU made a statement saying that they were closely looking into the situation and were aware of everything going on.
France openly supported India at the international forum and also spoke against Pakistan.
Abhinandan Varthaman VrC:
Then Wing Commander (now Group Captain) Abhinandan Varthaman Vrc is an Indian air force pilot who was also a part of the standoff between the two countries in February 2019.
Wing Commander (now Group Captain) Abhinandan Vrc was on a sortie in his Mig-21 Bison upon receiving information that Pakistani aircraft had entered the Indian air space. His goal was to intercept them.
He got engaged in an aerial dogfight with one of Pakistan Air Force’s F-16 fighter jets during his foray. This resulted in his aircraft being shot down and bringing down the F-16. He was able to eject successfully and landed in the Horran village of Pakistan, which he had no idea about.
As a result, he was captured by the Pakistani Army and was held captive by them for about 60 hours. There are videos of him on the internet wherein the Pakistani forces ask him questions with a blindfold. Nevertheless, he did not give in.
On February 28, 2019, Pakistan released a statement stating that they had decided to return the Indian soldier to his country as a gesture of peace. Finally, Wing Commander (now Group Captain) Abhinandan Varthaman crossed the Wagah border on March 1, 2019, and was safe and sound.
He was promoted to the rank of Group Captain in November 2019. He has also received the Vir Chakra, an Indian wartime bravery award awarded for acts of courage in the face of the enemy. It is the third-highest wartime gallantry award.
The Airstrike: A Success or failure?
The Balakot airstrike has aspects of both, it being completely successful and a few areas in which the desired result was not achieved.
Both these aspects have been mentioned below.
With global backing from nations across the world, one can say that India did what it had to and also did not face any backlash on the global frontier.
There were no casualties or heavy damages caused to the Indian air force during the process of the airstrike, which is a major factor while deciding the success ratio of any mission.
Indian officials also had solid proof in debris from an F-16 fighter of the Pakistani Air Force, showing that it was brought down by the Mig-21 of the Indian Air Force. These pieces of metal were also publicly displayed to the country’s citizens in the capital city of New Delhi.
As mentioned earlier, India also claimed to have proof that the Jaish e Mohammed terrorists who had set up camp in Balakot met with heavy and devastating damages to their buildings and resources.
On the contrary, other sources suggest that there was little or no proof of any relevant damage caused by the Indian air strikes and only the forest area was affected.
Critics termed the Balakot airstrike as ill-planned, mentioning that India would not have been ready if Pakistan had retaliated more aggressively.
The use of expensive SPICE bombs by the Indian Air Force was also questioned by many stating that these high technology weapons were wasted in a strike of little resemblance and were wasted in the end.
People have a contrasting opinion about almost everything in today’s time. No matter what India thinks, what the rest of the world thinks or what the actual reality is, one thing is for sure our country is now fully equipped and ready to take on any similar future challenges.
India has been continuously improving its defences and diverting more attention towards military needs. New deals with France, the UK, Russia are being signed to improve the existing cavalry.
We must be ever grateful for our armed forces and for the sacrifices they make for us, because after all, united we stand, divided we fall.
I hope this article was able to provide you with all the necessary details you needed to know on the Balakot Airstrike.
If there’s anything we missed out on, or if there’s anything you would like us to mention, please do tell.
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