India mocked Pakistan over a surprise airstrike, but now it looks like an embarrassing failure

Business Insider | Mar 7, 2019, 02.07AM IST

India Kashmir MiG-21 Bison crash

REUTERS/Danish Ismail

A civil-defence team member removes the wreckage of an Indian air force MiG-21 Bison aircraft after it crashed in Soibugh in Budgam district of Kashmir, August 24, 2015. The pilot of the aircraft ejected safely, according to local media reports.

  • India and Pakistan have been trading blows since a February 16 terror attack in Kashmir killed 40 India troops, but updated battle damage reports indicate India may have totally blown a surprise attack.
  • India sent some of its best jets and pilots to bomb a suspected terrorist training camp in Pakistan and new satellite imagery shows they missed.
  • After the strike, India burst into celebration and taunted Pakistan, but there's no evidence India accomplished anything at all.
  • India and Pakistan are bitter rivals that frequently mock each other, so this could be a black eye for India.

India and Pakistan have been trading blows since a February 16 terror attack in Kashmir killed 40 India troops, but updated battle damage reports indicate India's retaliation fell well short of achieving anything.

Following the terror attack, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his country's blood boiled, and blamed Pakistan for harboring the terror group that had struck.

Modi unleashed his military to strike back at Pakistan as they saw fit, in what one expert called an "abdication of political power."

India's military retaliation took the form of a surprise strike in the dead of night with Mirage 2000 jet fighters breaching Pakistan's airspace and bombing just miles from the country's military academies.

Immediately after the bombing, Indian forces claimed they had killed 300 members of the terror group with 2,000-pound bombs, and Indians around the country broke into celebrations.

Read more: India and Pakistan came to blows over Kashmir again, but the 70-year conflict is about much more than a border dispute

Pakistan, for its part, said India missed and had been chased off. One soundbite from Pakistan's defense minister, in which he blamed the nighttime for a delayed response, brought intense mockery from the vindicated Indian side.

But new evidence suggests that Pakistan was right, and India had outright failed to hit anything worthwhile.

No damage

india kashmire jaish e mohammed balakot.JPG

Planet Labs Inc./Handout via REUTERS

A satellite image shows a madrasa near Balakot, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan, March 4, 2019. Picture taken March 4, 2019.

Images from Planet Labs, which show details as small as 72 cm, don't show the alleged terrorist training site as having sustained any damage at all.

Reuters reporters last Tuesday and Thursday toured the area and interviewed people in the surrounding area and found no evidence of anyone being killed or hurt.

"It does appear there was a strike in the vicinity of the camp, but it looks like it largely missed," Omar Lamrani, a military analyst at Stratfor, a geopolitical consulting firm, told Business Insider.

Read more: New photos offer more evidence that India's airstrikes on Pakistan didn't hit anything

Some Indian officials said the munitions entered through the roof and detonated inside, but according to Lamrani, that "doesn't pass the smell test."

Indian officials told Reuters that they used 2,000-lb Israeli-made SPICE 2000 glide bombs in the attack. According to Lamrani and other experts, there's simply no way that bomb could hit its target and cause such little damage.

Instead, Pakistan showed craters just a few hundred yards short of the camp with rubble potentially from Indian missiles. For whatever reason, India missed its big attack by a hair.

India's best?

Dassault Mirage 2000 india air force nuclear

Public Domain

GWALIOR AIR FORCE STATION, India -- An Indian air force Mirage 2000 taxis into position following a Cope India 2004 sortie

India's Mirage 2000 fleet carries the country's nuclear weapons, meaning the aircraft are prioritized and have some of the best reliability rates in the fleet. Often, countries put their better pilots in nuclear-capable aircraft to ensure mission readiness.

"I think they were trying to go with some of their most capable precision-guided munitions," said Lamrani, adding that the pilots were "probably some of their best."

"But I'm a bit stumped as to why they missed," he continued. "It could be simply a pilot error, but it could speak to the status of the Indian air force."

A source told India's The Print that strong winds caused the Indian jets to cross into Pakistan's actual airspace to drop the bombs, but that also strains reason. Bombs dropped from altitude always face strong winds.

Ultimately, nobody is sure how India blew a surprise attack that seemed to legitimately catch Pakistan off guard.


modi pulwama terror victims

India's Press Information Bureau/Handout via REUTERS

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi pays tribute as he stands next to the coffins containing the remains of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel who were killed after a suicide bomber rammed a car into a bus carrying them in south Kashmir on Thursday, at Palam airport in New Delhi, India, February 15, 2019.

Since the attack, fighting continued and saw the loss of an Indian fighter jet to Pakistani forces. Pakistan released the captured pilot and offered an olive branch by saying it would help India investigate the terror incident.

But India has only made more unsubstantiated claims of victories. India said it downed a Pakistani jet, but has yet to produce any evidence.

Nationalism is on the rise in both India and Pakistan, bitter rivals who fought three wars since 1947. Each country has online militias bent on stoking nationalism, pushing politicians to hardline responses, and goading each other on military matters.

As the world looks on and hopes the nuclear nations can deescalate the fighting, India may have to accept the humiliation of a failed strike.

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