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

Business Insider US
A member of the right-wing Indian Hindu outfit Hin
A member of the right-wing Indian Hindu outfit Hindu Sena shouts slogans at a protest against politicians who were questioning Indian Armed Forces over recent airstrikes on Pakistan, in New Delhi on March 7, 2019. (Photo Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images)
  • India and Pakistan have been trading blows since a February 16 terror attack in Kashmir killed 40 Indian 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 away from the country's military academies.

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

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

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

No damage

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 toured the area late last month and interviewed people in the surrounding area. They 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 the geopolitical consulting firm Stratfor, told Business Insider.

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 they used 900-kilogram Israel-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, which may have been from Indian missiles. For whatever reason, India missed its big attack by a hair.

India's best?

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 that altitude always face strong winds.

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


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 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 have 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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