India’s biggest U-turn: No casualties in Balakot air strike, says union minister

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India conceded on Sunday that there were no casualties in the Balakot ‘air strike’ as a federal minister said that the operation was conducted to give a ‘warning’ to Pakistan.

Union minister Surinder Singh Ahluwalia said in a TV interview that there were no casualties in the Balakot airstrike and that the government had not provided any figures related to the deaths of JeM militants.

“The air strikes by India were just a warning,” he said. “Neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi nor any government spokesperson had given any figure on casualty of air strikes,” he added.

Ahluwalia blamed the Indian media and the government, stating that these two made tall claims about the killing of 300-350 JeM terrorists.

On February 26, India’s Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale had claimed that the IAF warplanes had crossed the LoC and conducted air strikes in Pakistan.

The foreign secretary claimed that the strikes targeted a Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) camp and killed ‘scores of terrorists’. Pakistan, however, denied any such camp existed and said that the IAF jets dropped their payload to flee as the PAF planes scrambled.

“A very large number of terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of militants have been killed,” Gokhale had said.

However, Pakistan invited international teams to visit the area and report. Two Reuters stories quoted villagers as saying that no militant camps existed in the area.

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) retaliated the next day, conducting strikes into Indian territory from within the Line of Control. No casualties were caused by the PAF intentionally as the Indian air strike from the previous day did not kill anyone, according to the armed forces.

As Indian jets intruded Pakistan’s airspace once again, the PAF shot down two Indian warplanes and captured an IAF pilot, Abhinandan Varnathan.

Abhinandan was released after being kept captive for two days. His release was declared as a ‘peace gesture’ from Pakistan to India by Prime Minister Imran Khan.