India on Tuesday said it had carried out a “pre-emptive strike” targeted at the “biggest training camp” of Pakistan-based militant outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed in the early hours of the day. A “very large number of terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis being trained for fidayeen action” were killed in the attack, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said.

The action came 12 days after a terror attack in Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir killed 40 jawans of the Central Reserve Police Force. The Jaish-e-Mohammed had claimed responsibility for the attack, and relations between India and Pakistan have seen renewed tension since then.

Gokhale said the attack had become “absolutely necessary in the face of imminent danger” as credible intelligence had shown that the outfit was planning “suicide terror attacks in various parts of the country” and was training jihadis for the purpose. The facility that was attacked was headed by Maulana Yousuf Azhar, the brother-in-law of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar, said Gokhale.

Gokhale called it a “non-military” action, and said it was conducted at a location far away from civilian presence.

‘1,000 kg bombs dropped’: Reports

Media reports citing officials said the strikes were carried out by the Indian Air Force between 3.30 am and 4 am. Unidentified officials told ANI that a dozen Mirage 2000 jets of the Indian Air Force had destroyed terror camps across the Line of Control by dropping “1,000 kg bombs” on them. This is the first air strike by India across the Line of Control since 1971.

The location of the strikes is not clear. The terrorist camp was located in Balakot, said Gokhale, without clarifying whether it is the Balakot near the Line of Control or the one in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Some villagers in Manshera district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa told BBC Urdu that they had heard four to five big blasts between 3 am and 4 am. Unidentified officials told PTI that the strikes took place in Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Military officials told ThePrint that the Air Force’s fighter jets bombed three locations in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir within 21 minutes, starting at 3.45 am. Balakot was bombed between 3.45 am and 3.53 am, a location in Muzaffarabad between 3.48 am and 3.55 am, and then one in Chakoti between 3.58 am and 4.04 am, they said. The officials said the joint training camps of Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen in Balakot were targeted.

Pakistan’s response

Earlier in the day, Pakistan armed forces spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor had said the Indian aircraft had “intruded” three to four miles across the Line of Control into the territory that Pakistan calls “Azad Jammu and Kashmir”, in Muzaffarabad sector. This territory is part of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Ghafoor posted pictures of what he said was payload dropped by the Indian aircraft “in haste while escaping”. Ghafoor also claimed there was no casualty or damage.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the Indian government is in “dire need of winning the upcoming elections, [and] selfishly enough, they are willing to create unrest in the entire region”. “Pakistan will use all international forums to expose India while being ready to retaliate to any aggression,” he said, according to his party. He said his country has the right to give an appropriate response and the right to self-defence. He told Samaa News that India should not challenge Pakistan, and that Islamabad is fully prepared to respond to any misadventure.

Response in India

The reports and Pakistan’s claims were followed by high-level meetings in both countries. The Cabinet Committee on Security chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi met at his residence, and the meeting was followed by Gokhale’s press conference at 11.30 am. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has called an all-party meeting at 5 pm.

Union minister Prakash Javadekar said the strikes were a “necessary step” by the Air Force. “The armed forces have shown great bravery, congratulations to them,” he said. His Cabinet colleague GS Shekhawat said the Air Force’s action was just a beginning.

National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said he had asked his party colleagues in border areas to “lend all possible help and assistance” to the administration and “any people caught up in any Pakistani misadventure”. He said: “Now we have an obligation to ensure that our people living near the international border and Line of Control are not caught in any Pakistani response. Local administrations need to be ready to evacuate and rehouse people to safe areas if situation escalates.”

BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav described the country’s armed forces as “world class”, and said “it is the political will of our PM and team that made all the difference”.

Several Opposition leaders lauded the Air Force for the operation. Congress President Rahul Gandhi, Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh were among those who tweeted their praise and support for the forces.

Bahujan Samaj Party President Mayawati said the terror incidents in Pulwama, Uri and Pathankot could have been avoided if the government had given the armed forces “a free hand” to act earlier.

After the Pulwama attack on February 14, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that security forces would be given a free hand and the government will give a strong reply to the perpetrators.