Operation Balakot: Part 2 (Selection of Target)

Operation Balakot Part 2 (to be Continued)

(Selection of Target)

The Government decision on 15 Feb 2019 to go for a military operation put Air Marshal Hari Kumar in an unprecedented situation. He was commissioned in the IAF on 14 Dec79 as a fighter pilot. After a distinguished career spanning almost 40 years, he was to retire on 28 Feb 2019.

He was ready to hang his boots after handing over charge of the Western Air Command to Air Marshal Raghunath Nambiar, PVSM, AVSM, VM & Bar[1]

Air Marshal Hari Kumar knew that the risks involved in the Operation envisaged were high. But the expectations of the government from the IAF were even higher.

Literally, in the last fortnight of his career, he had to deliver his best shot.

On the other hand, this unique opportunity to conduct an airstrike on the enemy country had come to the Indian Air Force after 48 years; since 1971 Bangladesh Operations.

All fighter pilots train throughout their service life and aspire to be a part of such an operation. There was no way to let the opportunity go out of hand. He accepted the challenge in the spirit of a true Air Warrior.

On 16 Feb 2019, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa personally went over to the Headquarters Western Air Command (HQ WAC) to convey the options given by the government and discuss the Operation with Air Marshal Hari Kumar. Everything was not clear as yet.

The two most experienced fighter pilots of the IAF had put their heads together to identify the best-suited target first.

 They had to choose between the two most important assets of Jaish-e-Mohammed – (1) JEM Headquarters at Bahawalpur and (2) The terrorist training camp at Balakot.

Weighing the pros and cons, they chose the training camp at Balakot, located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, as the target.

Balakot is located around 190 km away from Islamabad. The area falls approximately 50 km inside Pakistan from the LOC.

The compelling reasons for choosing the School as the target were: 

  1. Balakot Training Camp housed a large number of trainee terrorists and their Ex-Army trainers. Though Pakistan had called it a Madrassa providing spiritual lessons to kids, in reality, no small kids were available there. Only adult boys got trained there for conducting the proxy war.
  2. It was located on a hilltop in a dense forest. Therefore, there was no possibility of collateral damage to the civilian population and properties.
  3. It was a non-military target by Pakistan’s own admission.
  4. The loss of a large group of potential Mujahedeen (Islamic Terrorists) would have a dampening effect on the future destructive activities of JEM.

The two senior-most officers agreed to keep their plan under the wrap of utmost secrecy. It was of supreme importance for the Operation’s success. Besides them, only two more senior officers were to know the whole picture.

 After some brainstorming, they decided to use the best resources and the most qualified pilots available with the IAF.

Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa, was empowered to make the best pilots available, even if they were posted under different command headquarters. He could also marshal necessary resources from wherever in India they were available. 

A lot of intelligence reports on Balakot was already available with the HQ WAC. The intelligence provided by R &W (Research and Analysis wing under the Government of India) was very valuable. But Air Marshal Hari Kumar left no stones unturned to verify and re-verify the accuracy of the reports through the ISR Platform[2].

Finally, on 18 Feb 2019, the HQ WAC got even better intelligence on Balakot from the leadership. 

Considering the distance of Balakot from the LOC (Line of Control), the IAF emerged as the best option for the government to entrust the task.

Thus the target for the IAF was identified and fixed. Now there was no looking back.

 [1] VM & Bar: Awarded Vayu Sena Medal twice.

[2] ISR Platform: “ISR (Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) is the coordinated and integrated acquisition, processing and provision of timely, accurate, relevant, coherent and assured information and intelligence to support commander’s conduct of activities”.

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