Ever since the Balakot air strikes undertaken by IAF in retaliation to the Pulwama suicide attack by Pakistani jihadi group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), several voices in the West and within Bharat have been questioning the veracity & efficacy of the strikes. Where is the proof that any terrorists were killed, these Bharat-baiting voices have asked.
These voices, which included Western media outlets like Reuters, NYT etc and Opposition parties like TMC, Congress etc in Bharat, peddled various versions of the Pakistani military establishment’s line that (A) what existed in Balakot was merely a madrassa (Islamic seminary) for children (B) that IAF bombs missed their target and landed harmlessly in the forest.
The fact that a JeM terror camp existed in the Balakot hilltop that was targeted by IAF is beyond debate – A 2004 US Defence Department cable leaked by Wikileaks is clear evidence of the same. And the suspicious actions of the Pakistan Army in the immediate aftermath of the strike – cutting off access to the area, even for locals; reports of ambulances being rushed to the area – point to significant damage being done at the terror camp.
Now, Italian journalist Francesca Marino who also wrote an article dated March 11 titled “Pakistan lied about Balakot Camp”, has revealed via her sources that around 130-170 JeM jihadis were killed in the strike. Here are excerpts from the article she has posted on the website www.stringerasia.it –
“As it is well known now, the IAF strike was carried out at around 3.30 am. According to my informations, an Army unit, from their camp in Shinkiari, arrived at the location of the strike on February 26 at around 6 am, two and a half hours later.
Immediately after the Army unit arrival, the injured were taken to a Harkat-ul-Mujahideen camp, located in Shinkiari and treated by Pakistan Army doctors. Local sources say around 45 persons are still undergoing treatment in this camp, while around 20 have died during treatment due to serious injuries.
Those who have recovered are still in custody of the Army and have not been discharged. Based on the different inputs that have been gathered over the last several weeks through my contact, it can now also be safely said that the impact of the strike immediately killed a large number of JeM cadres. The numbers estimated have ranged from 130-170, including those who have died during treatment. Those killed included 11 trainers, ranging from bomb makers to those imparting weapons training. Two of these trainers were from Afghanistan.
To prevent news on the fatalities leaking through statements of family members of cadres, a group of JeM members also visited the families of those killed and handed over cash compensation to them.
Adjacent to the Blue Pine Hotel, located on the foothill from where one starts the trek for the JeM camp, is a freshly painted signboard that indicates the presence of the Taleem-ul-Quran on the hilltop. Unlike the earlier board, all links to JeM leader and now internationally proscribed terrorist Masood Azhar has been removed. The camp area is still under the control of the Army, with a Captain rank officer of the Mujahid battalion in command. The access to the dust track leading to the camp is still restricted, even to the local police. Apart from a few children and 3-4 teachers, the camp has been cleared of any traces of it earlier being a JeM camp.
Meanwhile, inhabitants of Bisian township, near the JeM camp, still discuss of some locals having noticed vehicles dumping rubble in the Kunhar River during the first night after the strike. There is also talk about the JeM leadership having assured its cadres that the group will take its revenge when the time is ripe.
In an earlier article, Marino had detailed how the Pakistani Army carried out a hasty cover-up to repair the damage caused by the strike, before taking foreign diplomats & media on a carefully managed excursion to the campsite.
But whatever information surfaces about the Balakot strike, for Congress leaders like Chellakumar who asked for the Pulwama suicide bomber’s body while claiming that Modi was behind the attack for electoral gains, nothing short of a live statement by Masood Azhar admitting to a jihadi death toll will suffice. Or, seeing how Congressmen worship the Italian-origin Sonia Maino Gandhi, will the word of an Italian journalist carry more weight for them compared to the IAF or Indian Government?
Did you find this article useful? We’re a non-profit. Make a donation and help pay for our journalism.