One year of Balakot airstrikes: How IAF avenged the Pulwama terror attack

In a pre-dawn strike on February 26, 2019, Indian Air Force’s (IAF) IAF’s Mirage 2000 fighter jets crossed the Line of Control (LoC) and pounded the terror camps in Balakot, Muzaffarabad and Chakoti in a well-planned operation destroying Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror camps.

The strikes were carried out in retaliation to the February 14 attack in the Pulwama district of Kashmir where a convoy of vehicles carrying CRPF security personnel on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway was attacked by a vehicle-borne suicide bomber. 40 jawans were martyred in the attack which is defined as one of the deadliest terror strikes in India in recent times.

A year has been passed and a lot has been changed since then. The then IAF chief, Air Marshal BS Dhanoa, in an interview to news agency ANI, asserted that the strikes mark a paradigm shift in the manner India conducts operations. “One year has gone past and we look back with satisfaction. We have learned a lot of lessons, lot of things have been implemented post-Balakot operations. Basically, it is a paradigm shift in the way we conduct our operations. The other side never believed that we could carry out a strike inside Pakistan to take out terror training camp which we successfully executed. It is a paradigm shift and the result is there for you to see,” Dhanoa said.

The former air force chief also pointed out that the strikes acted as a deterrent as there were no major terrorist attacks during the Lok Sabha polls after it.

There’s no doubt that the strikes gave a clear message to Pakistan that its policy of cross border terrorism will no longer be acceptable.

What is even more significant is that the IAF fighter jets went deep into the Pakistani airspace, executed a precise attack on the targets, and came home unchallenged.

Although Pakistan tried to target Indian military installations in Jammu and Kashmir the next day, the attempts were thwarted by an alert IAF. In the aerial dogfight that followed, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, flying a MiG-21 Bison fighter jet, engaged and shot down a much-advanced F-16 of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). However, chasing Pakistani jets, he crossed over to PoK where his aircraft was hit. He was taken into custody by Pakistan.

Amid intense diplomatic pressure, he was released by Pakistan on March 1. He was later awarded the third-highest wartime gallantry award Vir Chakra.