Unreleased high-resolution satellite image of Balakot Jaish-e-Mohammed camp, accessed by NDTV, seems to substantiate Indian claim that the Indian Air Force's laser-guided bombs did hit the target during 26 February air strike.
The news website, claims that so far the clearest image available shows three one-metre-wide holes in the roof of one of the structures inside the sprawling Jaish-e-Mohammed campus. The structure was reportedly the lodging area for senior Mujahideen militants.
"There are three clear marks on one of the sloping roofs. These can be described as "holes". Each hole has a diameter of 1 metre, a detail clearly mentioned on the printout of the satellite image," the report stated.
Earlier, Firstpost had accessed details of a rough layout of the JeM camp, revealing that the facility spread over two kilometres, had a Markaz or a hostel for trainee Mujahideens. The image now accessed by NDTV also seems to point to a similar floor plan within the militant camp.
Our report had stated that the JeM camp, locally known as the Markaz Syed Ahmad Shaheed camp, has multiple buildings used for residential and training purposes. There is a huge open space for outdoor activities. The first building is an office block. A 10-minute walk and a right turn leads to a single-storey structure, the residence of head trainer Ustad Usman Ghouri. Before the strike, he used to share the house with his family.
Further up top is a student hostel where new recruits live. Next to it is a house for trainers, and visitors are accommodated in a guest house. These three facilities are not too far from the office block.
At the heart of the complex, surrounded by trees, is the madrassa. There is a large hall, where trainers speak to the recruits. The seminary faces a large open ground for outdoor activities. JeM recruits are known to practice hand-to-hand combat, try their hands at sports other than cricket, which the terrorist group disapproves of, and other forms of physical activity to be 'fighting fit'.
Next to the seminary is a mosque that can accommodate close to 200 people. There is a tea stall as well. The far end of the camp is for the senior-most cadres, or, the mujahideen. There is a big hall for them to congregate and a shared living space, or a hostel, as well. The NDTV report possibly refers to this hostel with clearer images showing a possible impact of the air strike.
It is interesting to note here that earlier, a Reuters report had also released satellite images by a San Francisco-based private satellite operator, Planet Labs Inc to report that post the Indian air strike, image was virtually unchanged from an April 2018 satellite photo of the facility. This image, available in public domain, was clicked on 4 March (six days after the attack).
"There are no discernible holes in the roofs of buildings, no signs of scorching, blown-out walls, displaced trees around the madrasa or other signs of an aerial attack," the report had claimed at the time.
However, NDTV quotes IAF sources who vociferously deny these claims and state that advanced weaponry was used in the strike which may not flatten entire buildings, but was capable of a precision strike. ''It kills all soft skin targets by the blast over pressure wave within a confined room. An advanced fuse, available as an option, can also count floors. In the case of Balakot, at least one of the Spice 2000 smart bombs was said to have pierce a two-storey building before exploding," the report claimed.
The IAF also reportedly shared some high resolution satellite images in a dossier it submitted to the government. The IAF had claimed that these images prove that 80 percent of the bombs deployed during the airstrike hit their intended targets. The force, however, said it was up to the government to release these images.
Hindstan Times, which claimed to have access to the IAF report, also made similar claims citing the military document.
"Among the targets destroyed were a guest-house where Maulana Masood Azhar, his brothers Adul Rauf Azhar and senior functionaries of the banned terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) usually stayed while visiting the camp and a Markaz or hostel for JeM's trainee terrorists, according to the report. The airstrike was so precise that a mosque at the center of the 0.67 square kilometre complex was untouched because India didn't want it to be destroyed," the report said.
While the government said that it would not share numbers, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale asserted that a "very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders, and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated."
Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa also refused to discuss how many terrorists were killed, but said: "If we plan to hit the target, we hit the target." Matters escalated after a foreign agency, based on satellite photographs, recently suggested that no significant damage took place on the JeM camp in Balakot.
It is still unclear whether the government will ever officially release the proof of the Balakot air strikes in the public domain, but claims in the media have varied. At least internationally, there aren't many precedents of nation states releasing 'proof' of anti-terror operations.