Satellite Images Show Indian Airstrike Target Intact

India claimed that the airstrikes destroyed their target near the town of Balakot, Pakistan. (Wikimedia Commons)

India claimed that the airstrikes destroyed their target near the town of Balakot, Pakistan. (Wikimedia Commons)

New high-resolution imagery published on March 4 by Planet Labs Inc. shows several structures intact at the location in northeastern Pakistan that India claimed had been subject to airstrikes. The pictures display the location of a madrasa (an Islamic religious school) run by militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) near the town of Balakot. The images emerged six days after the Indian military announced the airstrike.

The pictures, reviewed by Reuters, display details as small as 28 inches. Reuters states that the imagery is virtually unchanged from an earlier April 2018 satellite photograph. It shows no discernible scorching or damage to the roofs of buildings. These developments cast doubt on the earlier statements by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, reported in the Hindustan Times, that the raids on February 26 had largely destroyed their targets and killed hundreds of militants. Pakistan disputed this claim.

India launched the air raids as retaliatory strike against a suicide bomb attack by Jaish-e-Mohammad that killed 40 Indian paramilitary police in the Kashmir region on February 14. Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale published an official statement saying that “a very large number of Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists, trainers, senior commanders, and groups of jihadis who were being trained for Fidayeen action (suicide bombings) were eliminated.”

However, on the morning of February 26, a spokesman for the Pakistan Armed Forces, Major General Asif Ghafoor, tweeted images of an uninhabited wooded hillside that he alleged to be the impact area. In a further press conference, Gen Ghafoor claimed that the payload was dropped in a hurry and that it resulted in no infrastructure damage or casualties. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan later branded India’s claim as “self-serving, reckless and fictitious.”

An unnamed Indian official told the Indian Express that the lack of visible damage to the structures was a result of India using Israeli-made Smart, Precise Impact, Cost Effective (SPICE) smart bombs as part of its payload. According to the official, these are not meant to destroy but only to cause damage after they enter a building.

The pictures posted to Twitter by Maj Gen Ghafoor appear to confirm that the payload contained SPICE bombs. The most identifiable photo was of the fins, which closely resemble those of the Israeli-made smart weapon. However, the photographs do not appear to have been taken at the madrasa, leaving open the possibility that while the payload contained SPICE weapons, they were dropped prematurely and did not hit the intended facilities.

The dispute over the airstrikes comes as the latest in a series of incidents in the past months across Indo-Pakistani border. In February, Pakistan captured and released an Indian Air Force pilot downed during a dogfight. More recently, on March 12, Pakistan placed the Air Force and Army on full operational alert, with an entire squadron of F-16 fighters deployed along its eastern border, as the DB Post reported.

The New York Times, among others, have suggested that tactical failures like missed airstrikes and lost dogfights should give New Delhi pause over the state of its armed forces. Defense policy theorists have speculated that India’s army is a paper tiger. The last successful conflict India participated in was the 1971 war with Pakistan that ended with Bangladesh’s independence. If full-scale war broke out, it is unlikely that India would be able to sustain itself. Government estimates indicate that ammunition supplies would last only 10 days, and 68 percent of the army’s equipment is so outdated that it has been officially deemed “vintage.”