‘Most significant air action by the IAF in 4+ decades’: Indian air chief says Balakot air strikes showed Delhi’s ‘firm resolve’

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New Delhi’s pre-dawn air raid on a militant training camp in Balakot, Pakistan last year marked the country’s largest air force action in 40 years, India’s air chief said nearly one year to the day after the dramatic operation.

The strikes, carried out last February in retaliation for the Pulwama terrorist attack – which killed 40 Indian troops in Kashmir – targeted a training facility operated by Islamist terror cell Jaish-e-Mohammed. It was the largest air operation seen in the region in decades, involving 12 Mirage 2000 fighter jets, Indian Air Force (IAF) Chief Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria told the Times of India in an interview.

“These strikes were the most significant air action by the IAF in over four decades, with our fighters penetrating deep into Pakistani airspace, executing a precise attack on the terror camp and returning home unchallenged despite the full air defence alert by PAF [Pakistani Air Force],” Bhadauria said of the operation, which brought the nuclear-armed neighbors to the brink of all-out war.

India conveyed its firm resolve, and Pakistan would surely need to factor in what we might do next if any misadventure is attempted on Indian soil.

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Pakistani officials have disputed New Delhi’s version of events, arguing the Balakot raid hit no targets of consequence, also rejecting claims that it had any ties to the militant training camp in the first place. The air chief, however, insisted there was “absolutely no doubt that we hit our target and achieved our objectives.”

Once the decision on the target was given, we chose weapons to match this target with minimum collateral damage. The Spice-2000 bombs did just that by striking the building harbouring hardcore terrorists.

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Islamabad responded to the February 26 strike one day later, mobilizing its own warplanes and eventually downing an Indian fighter jet in an air skirmish and capturing its pilot. New Delhi, too, claims to have shot down a Pakistani F-16 during the dogfight, and while Pakistan’s military has repeatedly denied losing any aircraft, Bhadauria said he has evidence that it did.

“IAF has provided adequate proof that our fighters involved in the response to PAF’s attempted counter-strike challenged the enemy fighters and forced them to withdraw,” he went on.

In the ensuing engagement, [an Indian pilot] followed a PAF aircraft in ‘hot pursuit’ … and launched his missile. Electronic signatures and radar pictures indicated he engaged an F-16.

With the militant training facility in Balakot back in operation, per the Indian Army, Bhadauria said the military is now “keeping a close watch on activities at all terror training camps” in the region, noting that “appropriate strategies are in place to counter them.”

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