Indian government confirms air strikes on militant camps inside Pakistan

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Indian air force jets carried out air strikes on militant camps inside Pakistan on Tuesday, a government minister said, adding that “a very large number” of fighters were killed.

Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale told a media briefing that the raid on the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) camp at Balkot was launched because New Delhi believed suicide attacks in India were “imminent.”

“A very large number of Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen (suicide) action were eliminated,” he said.

JeM claimed responsibility for a February 14 suicide bomb attack in Kashmir that killed 40 Indian paramilitaries.

“Air Force carried out aerial strike early morning today at terror camps across the LoC (Line of Control) and completely destroyed it,” minister of state for agriculture Gajendra Singh Shekhawat had said on Twitter.

Pakistan’s military said Indian military aircraft had crossed into its territory in the disputed Kashmir region and “released a payload” after Pakistan scrambled its own jets, but there were no casualties or damage.

The confrontation follows escalating tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals since the Feb 14 suicide bombing in Kashmir, when 40 Indian paramilitary police were killed by a Pakistani-based militant group. New Delhi blamed Islamabad, which denies having a role in the attack.

“Indian aircrafts intruded from Muzafarabad sector,” Pakistani military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said on Twitter early on Tuesday, referring to an area in the Pakistan-administered part of Kashmir.

Ghafoor said “facing timely and effective response from Pakistan Air Force”, the Indian aircraft “released payload in haste while escaping which fell near Balakot. No casualties or damage.”

Balakot, a town in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan, is about 50 km (31 miles) from the Line of Control (LoC), which acts as a de facto border between the two countries that have fought three wars since their independence from British colonial rule in 1947.

Shelling across the Kashmiri Line of Control has frequently occurred over the last few years, while tensions between the neighbors have been simmering, but airspace violations are rare.

In 2016, following another large attack on Indian security forces in Kashmir, New Delhi said its troops crossed the LoC and carried out a “surgical strike” on suspected militant camps across the border in Pakistan Kashmir. Islamabad denied anything serious occurred.