New Delhi: Five Mirage 2000 fighter jets of the Indian Air Force (IAF) dropped as many Spice 2000 precision-guided bunker-busting bombs when India struck camps of the terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa on 26 February, according to new official information shared with ThePrint.
And two of the three intended targets, including the main training centre of the JeM, were conclusively hit, high-resolution images procured by India from its own satellites as well as those of friendly nations show.
The view of the third, a guest house suspected to have housed trainers and JeM chief Masood Azhar’s brother-in-law Yusuf Azhar alias Ustad Ghauri, was blocked by the heavy tree cover on the hilltop where the camps stood.
Contrary to reports that bad weather conditions on the day of the strike prevented clear pictures, top defence sources said that India has managed to get multiple high-resolution pictures of the structures, including those of repairs being carried out on the roof of one after the attack.
Weeks after India struck camps of the Pakistan-based JeM to foil future attacks by the terror group responsible for the 14 February Pulwama strike, which killed 40 CRPF personnel, questions have been raised over the exact impact of the hit.
Satellite images in possession of the government, and seen by ThePrint, clearly show that the Israeli Spice 2000 bombs, each of them weighing 900 kg with 95 kg of explosives, did drop on at least two targets.
The images show small black holes in the roof of two of the targeted buildings that appear to be the entry points of the bombs, which are meant to take out heavily-fortified and underground command and control centres.
“The Spice 2000 is meant to take out underground command and control centres of the enemy,” a top source in the government told ThePrint.
“These centres are built with heavy concrete structures on top to prevent any damage from traditional bombs,” the source added.
Explaining how the Israeli bombs work, the source said their weight and velocity were directed at penetrating concrete structures and releasing shrapnel from their steel casing. The actual explosive in each bomb only weighs 95 kg, about a tenth of the total weight.
“The main velocity of the explosives is used to break through the 900 kg of steel casing. This steel breaks into small pieces and acts as shrapnel,” said the source.
The IAF went in for the Spice 2000 missiles with the intent of causing maximum damage to residents of the three structures. Six bombs were meant to be fired from the Mirage 2000 fighters, but because of a technical issue, only five could be.
According to the source, questions about the damage inflicted by the bombs betrayed a lack of understanding about their functioning.
“Everybody is looking at the commercially-available satellite images and arguing that the structures are standing, without understanding how these precision bombs actually work,” the source added.
Since satellite images only show the top of the structures, it’s difficult to analyse the exact extent of damage.
“Only ground pictures will show the extent of damage, but, sadly, the satellite pictures will not be able to capture that,” the source said. “What it shows is that the bombs did hit the targets. And when a bomb hits the target, it causes the damage that it is meant to cause.”
There are six structures at the attack site, including a large mosque, but the IAF was tasked with targeting three.
A two-storey building that housed most of the cadres, including suicide bombers in training, was the primary target, and was hit by three bombs, sources said.
The three Spice 2000 that hit this building came with timers — configured on the basis of the structure’s make and the material used — that enabled them to go off only after reaching the ground floor.
The other two were the guest house and a single-storey building believed to house new recruits.
Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said after the 26 February IAF strike that it eliminated “a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action”, but the exact toll is not available as yet.
According to information generated through technological means and human intelligence, the structures housed as many as 300 terrorists, sources have said.
The numbers are said to have swelled in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack, as the JeM pulled back cadres from the border amid fears of a 2016-like surgical strike, when the Indian Army’s special forces crossed the Line of Control (LoC) to destroy terrorist launch pads.
The Pakistani military has thrown open the Balakot area where the camps were located for the media, and organised trips to a site in the forest where they claim the bombs fell but is suspected to be a ground for explosives training.
But the JeM camp being run under the cover of a madrassa remains out of bounds.