India claimed it killed 300 odd Jaish militants in an air-strike inside Pakistan. Several international media outlets found these claims untrue and reported no significant damage.
On Tuesday morning, news blared across Indian TV studios that India has successfully carried out air-strikes against Jaish e Mohammad (JeM) training camps in Pakistan saying, “a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for [suicide] action were eliminated.”
Pakistan, however, denied that any casualties had taken place. Sections of Indian media quoted Indian officials saying, ‘at least 300 JeM militants were killed’ in the airstrike. What followed was euphoria in several TV studios across India. However, no one seemed to ask the most basic questions about the air-strike?
How was the figure of 300 killed militants arrived at? How could Indian Air Forces possibly know how many militants its strike had killed? These questions were left unanswered in TV newsrooms but the claims made by the Government of India didn’t escape the scrutiny of the international media.
Al Jazeera English sent its Pakistan correspondent Asad Hashim to the site of the air-strike and found the claims by Government of India to be lacking substance. “Indian bombing inside Pakistani territory appears to have struck a mostly uninhabited forest and a farmer’s wheat field,” Al Jazeera reported. The report further said, “Local hospital officials and several residents who rushed to the scene said they did not find any bodies or wounded people following the Indian attack, which took place at approximately 3 am local time on Tuesday.”
Washington Post ran an article titled India and Pakistan may not go to war. But the crisis is escalating, where it said that no sign of mass causalities was reported. “Initial reports from local police officials and residents who spoke on the condition of anonymity confirmed that a strike took place in a mountainous area a few miles outside town, but they said they saw no signs of mass casualties,” the article read.
Similarly, New York Times in a story about the Indian air-strike quoted residents living in Balakot (the site of the air strike) of having ‘seen no sign of any significant damage from the airstrikes’. Questioning the claims made by the GoI, the NYT article further said, “The view that little had been damaged was supported by military analysts and two Western security officials, who said that any militant training areas at the site, in the Pakistani province of (KPK), had long since packed up or dispersed. Balakot and its surrounding area hosted numerous militant training camps until 2005, when a powerful earthquake struck the area, devastating its towns and villages. As international aid groups poured in to provide relief, militants packed up their camps and went elsewhere, to avoid being detected.”
London’s prominent newspaper The Guardian, while reporting the air-strike did take place but questioned whether any significant was hit by the fighter jets. The report read, “The attack was celebrated in India, but it was unclear on Tuesday whether anything significant had been struck by the fighter jets, or whether the operation had been carefully calibrated to ease popular anger over the 14 February suicide bombing without drawing a major Pakistani reprisal. Local media in Pakistan, as well as Reuters, quoted residents of Balakot who said they heard four to five blasts overnight which damaged homes and left large pockmarks in the ground.”
Dubai based Gulf News reported that the Indian air-strike in Balakot had missed its target. “From what villagers could see, the Indian attack had missed its target as the bombs dropped exploded about a kilometre away from the madrasa. Fida Hussain Shah, a 46-year-old farmer, said he and other villagers had found pieces of Indian ordnance that had splintered pine trees on the hill but the only casualty was a man sleeping in his house when shrapnel broke the windows,” Gulf News reported.
Another prominent British newspaper, Daily Telegraph quoted villagers of Balakot saying only one person was wounded by the shrapnel. “Villagers in the area told Reuters they heard four loud bangs in the early hours of Tuesday but reported only one person wounded by shrapnel. “We saw trees fallen down and one house damaged and four craters where the bombs had fallen,” said Mohammad Ajmal, a 25-year-old who visited the site,” the Daily Telegraph wrote.
Another British publication Jane’s Information Group – which is a publishing company specialising in military, aerospace and transportation topics called the air-strike as political symbolism. “A lot of intelligence sources say those camps in Pakistan had been cleaned out… This is more political symbolism than anything else. Mr Modi had to show some demonstrable action on India’s part, ahead of elections,” Jane’s report read. ♦