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Was the Jaish-e-Mohammad terror facility destroyed in Balakot strike?

By Anuj Cariappa

New Delhi, Mar 07: Amid conflicting claims of "satellite evidence" on whether India did strike the Jaish-e-Mohammed camp at Balakot in Pakistan, the Indian air force( IAF) maintained that it had hit the intended targets and that precision 'Spice' bombs had pierced the roofs of identified buildings and exploded inside.

Maulana Masood Azhar

A Reuters report on Wednesday referred to images produced by Planet Labs Inc, a San Francisco-based private satellite operator, showing at least six buildings on the site of the Jaish camp on March 4. The report claimed the image was virtually unchanged from an April 2018 photo and had no signs of a bombing. "There are no discernible holes in the roofs of buildings, no signs of scorching, blown-out walls, displaced trees around the madrassa or other signs of an aerial attack," the report said. It quoted Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Non-proliferation programme at Middlebury Institute of International Studies, who "confirmed" that the satellite picture showed the structures in question.

Balakot strike: S-2000 smart bombs penetrated targets, caused blast inside

Indian government sources have previously said the attack did not target the entire Jaish campus, but only 5-6 specific buildings. IAF chief Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanao has said the designated targets were hit even as he did not offer an estimate of how many persons may have died.

Even as a political battle raged, with Congress demanding the government clarify the accounts on casualties, and BJP countering, asking why the opposition was doubting the armed forces, television channels on Wednesday played yet another set of satellite images claiming that the targets at the Jaish terror camp had been hit.

The images showed areas that were identified as blast impact sites where vegetation was allegedly damaged. The TV reports claimed that this was the result of the blasts at the buildings that were hit. It was also alleged that the bodies of terrorists at the camp might have been buried at the site to hide evidence and there were efforts to rebuild the roofs.

So far, though representatives of foreign media have visited Balakot and some accounts had residents claiming that there had been few or no casualties, no one has been allowed at the camp itself that is near Balakot on a hilltop in a wooded area. Some foreign correspondents have reported that locals have spoken of a few dozen bodies being removed from the area.

ISI colonel, Salim Qari, JeM trainer Maulana Moeen among those killed in Balakot strike

The IAF is sticking to its stand that it hit the intended targets in pre-dawn strikes on February 26. "The bombs, which were pre-loaded with satellite images and geographical coordinates of the JeM facility, pierced the roofs of the targeted buildings and exploded inside. The inmates would have been killed by the blast and shock waves," a source said.

Rejecting commercially-available satellite imagery being used by some experts to claim there was no major visible external damage to the facility, IAF sources said it was up to the government to decide whether it wanted to release the SAR (synthetic aperture radar) and other pictures captured by Indian surveillance platforms during the strikes.

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