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India claims to have struck 'biggest training camp of JeM in Balakot'

Updated February 26, 2019

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India's Foreign Secretary VK Gokhale. — AFP
India's Foreign Secretary VK Gokhale. — AFP

India's Foreign Secretary VK Gokhale on Tuesday claimed that the country's air force "struck the biggest training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) in Balakot".

Addressing a press conference in New Delhi, Gokhale said "a large number of JeM terrorists were killed".

"The strike avoided civil casualties," he alleged.

Early on Tuesday, Inter-Services Public Relations' (ISPR) Major-General Asif Ghafoor said that Indian military planes violated the Line of Control (LoC), intruding from the Muzaffarabad sector. "Facing timely and effective response from Pakistan Air Force released payload in haste while escaping which fell near Balakot."

"Credible intel [intelligence] was received that JeM was planning more suicide attacks in India," alleged the Indian official. "In the face of imminent danger, a preemptive strike became absolutely necessary."

"Top commanders were eliminated in the strike," he said, adding "the action took place just hours ago".

Dawn Exclusive: A time for restraint

However, Balakot police chief Saghir Hussain Shah told The Associated Press that he had sent teams to the area — which he described as a mostly deserted wooded area — who found "no casualties, no damages on the ground because of the dropping of the bombs”.

"Information has been provided to Pakistan from time to time [...] Pakistan has taken no concrete action," Gokhale alleged. The purported 'action' by India comes only days after Prime Minister Imran Khan reiterated his offer that if India provides Pakistan with "actionable intelligence" regarding the February 14 attack in occupied Kashmir's Pulwama, "we will immediately act”.

"This facility at Balakot was headed by Maulana Yousuf Azhar (alias Ustad Ghouri), the brother-in-law of Masood Azhar, Chief of JeM," according to Gokhale. He, however, did not provide any evidence to back claims of the alleged camp being destroyed.

Prior to the press conference, India's Cabinet Committee on Security met at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s residence in New Delhi, Asian News International reported.

According to Indian media reports, Modi briefed Indian President Ram Nath Kovind and Vice President Venkaiah Naidu after the meeting. Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj has also called an all-parties meeting at 5pm (India time).