India strikes Jaish-e-Mohammad camp inside Pakistan

The Indian government has retaliated for the deadly Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) suicide attack that killed 40 soldiers in the state of Jammu and Kashmir nearly two weeks ago. Today, the Indian Air Force launched a raid against a JeM camp in Balakot inside Pakistan, killing scores of jihadists. The Pakistani government is denying the raid took place.

Indian warplanes attacked “the biggest training camp of JeM in Balakot,” according to a statement released by the embassy in Washington, DC. The statement is attributed to Shri Vijay Gokhale, India’s Foreign Secretary.

“In this operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action [suicide attacks] were eliminated,” it continued.

Indian press reports indicate that 12 Mirage 2000 strike aircrafts crossed the Line of Control early in the morning and struck the camp. Pakistani F-16s scrambled to intercept but did not engage, according to DNA India. Indian officials estimate that between 200 and 300 JeM members were killed in the operation.

Gokhale described the operation as a “preemptive strike” that “became absolutely necessary” as JeM was plotting further suicide operations.

The JeM camp was run by Maulana Yousef Azhar, the brother-in-law of Masood Azhar, the group’s founder, according to Gokhale. Yousef participated in the the Indian Airlines flight hijacking in Dec. 1999 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He is reported to have been killed during today’s strike in Balakot.

The JeM camp in Balakot is located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and is only 25 miles north of Abbottabad, where US Navy SEALs killed al Qaeda founder and emir Osama bin Laden during a raid in May 2011.

India’s foreign minister noted that Pakistan “had made a solemn commitment in January 2004 not to allow its soil or territory under its control to be used for terrorism against India.” Just six days after the Feb. 13 suicide attack in Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan denied that his country was used as a launchpad for terrorist groups.

Yet Pakistan remains a hotbed for a bevy of jihadist groups that are sponsored by the Pakistani state. [See LWJ reports, ‘Our soil is not used for carrying out terrorist attacks,’ Pakistan PM claims and In response to Trump, Pakistan claims no terrorist groups operate on its soil for details.]

Pakistan denies India struck JeM camp

The issue of military incursions into Pakistan is a sensitive one, particularly for Pakistan’s military, which derives much of its power by upholding itself as the defender of the state from Indian aggression. Pakistani military leaders cannot look weak on this issue, and therefore they often downplay or deny Indian strikes across the Line of Control, the militarized border between Pakistan-held Kashmir and the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Major General Asif Ghafoor, the Director General of the military’s Inter-Services Public Relations directorate, denied that Indian warplanes struck a JeM camp in Balakot, or even penetrated Pakistani airspace.

“”Last night, our radars were observing them,” Ghafoor said, according to Dawn. “They had earlier come closer to our border but did not cross it. Last night, their first visibility was observed near the Sialkot and Lahore border. They were seen approaching the border. Our Combat Air Patrol (CAP) team approached and challenged them. They did not cross.”

Ironically, Ghafoor then claimed Indian warplanes accidentally dropped four bombs near Balakot.

The Pakistani military made a similar incoherent denial in Sept. 2016 after Indian commandos crossed the Line of Control and attacked JeM fighters in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The Indian military was responding to another JeM attack on an Indian Army base in Uri that killed 17 soldiers.

However, Ghafoor did not address the issue of JeM or other terror groups that openly operate inside Paksitan, with the approval and support from Pakistan’s military, Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, and government.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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