‘No doubt Balakot targets were hit, it was all over in 90 seconds’

The Indian air strike on a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror camp in Pakistan’s Balakot was “over within 90 seconds” and the mission was carried out with such secrecy that not even close family members of the assault team knew about the developments, two pilots part of the predawn operation on February 26 said.

Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter planes destroyed the JeM camp in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s province after entering Pakistani airspace for the first time in 48 hours following suicide bombing claimed by the terror group that killed 40 troopers of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama on February 14.

“It was over in 90 seconds; we released the weapon and we turned back,” said one of the Mirage 2000 fighter pilots in the first such account of the Indian airstrike. “No one, not even my close family knew,” the IAF pilot said, asking not to be named.

“Next day, when news broke, my wife asked me whether I was part of the attack. I kept quiet and slept off,” he added. Another squadron leader detailed the clandestine operation. “We flew a lot of Combat Air Patrols (CAP) mostly along Line of Control (LoC),” he said. Flying numerous CAPs along the LoC was a ploy India used to throw off Pakistan’s air defences.

The indication of what was in store came only two days before the strike. “We knew something was happening, but no one had a clear picture. Number of sorties had increased manifold. Many of us were flying multiple sorties,” the second pilot said.

“While previous CAPs and sorties were without weapons, on [February] 25 at about 4pm, the Spice-2000 [missiles] was loaded on to the Mirage 2000s. The specific coordinates of the terror training camp were fed into the weapon systems,” he said. “We took off at 2am that night.”

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