As tensions between India and Pakistan build in the aftermath of the February 14th suicide bombing in Kashmir, the Indian Air Force launched a sortie against suspected “terrorist training camps” inside the Pakistani border near the town of Balakot.
According to a report from the BBC, the strike was directed at Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), a Pakistan-based Islamic terrorist organization which hopes to eventually bring Kashmir under Pakistani control. JeM has been on the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations since late 2001.
“Credible intel [intelligence] was received that JeM was planning more suicide attacks in India. In the face of imminent danger, a pre-emptive strike became absolutely necessary,” said Vijay Gokhale, India’s Foreign Secretary while briefing reporters on Tuesday. “In this operation, a very large number of Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and Jehadis being trained were eliminated.”
Pakistan was quick to refute the Foreign Secretary’s account of the incident, insisting the airstrikes impacted a “forest area” and produced no casualties, according to a report from Reuters. Pakistan also stated it scrambled fighter aircraft to intercept the Indians.
“Indian aircrafts intruded from Muzafarabad sector,” wrote Pakistani Armed Forces spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor in a tweet. “Facing timely and effective response from Pakistan Air Force-released payload in haste while escaping, which fell near Balakot. No casualties or damage.”
Payload of hastily escaping Indian aircrafts fell in open. pic.twitter.com/8drYtNGMsm
— Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor (@OfficialDGISPR) February 26, 2019
The Indian airstrikes are believed to be in response to the February 14th suicide bombing in Kashmir, which JeM claimed credit for. The suicide attack was carried out against a convoy of Indian police officers and resulted in the death of nearly 50 people.
Since 2018, the Indian government has increased police presence in the area in order to stop Pakistan-based militants from crossing the border. Although Pakistan denied any official involvement in the suicide attack, many in the Indian government believe Islamabad had a “direct hand” in the bombing.
India and Pakistan have technically been at war for several decades, but this latest bombing by the Indian Air Force is the first time a strike was conducted on the Pakistani side of the border. Both countries have nuclear weapons, and Pakistan has threatened to respond to any act of aggression. Kashmir is governed by India, although the majority of its residents are Muslims, and much of the dispute between the two countries is centered in this area. According to the Associated Press, many Kashmiris want the region to be incorporated into Pakistan, while others wish for total independence.