Responding to a question on the casualty numbers after the Indian air strikes on a Jaish-e-Mohammed camp in Pakistan’s Balakot on 26 February, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, “Trust the government, trust the Forces. No numbers will be given by the government.”
She was speaking at the Aaj Tak National Security Summit in New Delhi on Tuesday, 12 March.
So far, although there hasn’t been any official confirmation on the numbers either from the government or the spokespersons of the armed forces, media houses have been citing “top government sources” while putting out the number of terrorists killed in the Balakot airstrikes following the Pulwama terror attack that killed 40 CRPF jawans. On the day of the attack, 26 February, many media outlets placed the number at “250-300.”
Both Foreign Secretary, Vijay Gokhale and Air Vice Marshall RGK Kapoor did not confirm any number in their official press briefings. Now, according to Sitharaman, the government has also not given out official numbers.
However, top Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, Union ministers and chief ministers had resorted to citing numbers publicly.
Avenged Pulwama Attack By Killing 400 in Balakot: Yogi Adityanath
UP CM Yogi Adityanath, while on his visit to the state’s Etah district, said India had avenged the deaths of 40 CRPF personnel in the Pulwama attack by killing 400 in Balakot, reported PTI.
Yogi reiterated his claim the next day, when he tweeted (in Hindi) that the “forces had entered Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and killed 400 terrorists to avenge the Pulwama attack.”
More Than 250 Terrorists Killed in Air Strike: Amit Shah
Speaking at a rally in Ahmedabad, BJP President Amit Shah said “more than 250 terrorists” were killed in the air strike carried out by the Indian Air Force, reported PTI.
Javadekar Supports Shah’s Claims
Union HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar came out in defence of Amit Shah’s ‘more than 250 killed’ claim and slammed the Congress. "They are rubbishing the armed forces' claims and questioning their strength," Javadekar said, reported PTI.
Four Buildings Were Damaged: RS Prasad
Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, while addressing the media on 5 March, said, “Look, I am not giving you any number as the death toll on behalf of the government.
“How powerful the strike was – you have seen the reports on the number of mobiles that were intercepted, I have already told you four buildings were damaged,” he said, reported ANI.
Numbers of Terrorists Killed in the Air Strike Will be Known Today or Tomorrow: Rajnath Singh
Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that the number of terrorists killed in the air strike by the Indian Air Force on the training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammed in Pakistan's Balakot would be known "today or tomorrow."
He claimed that the NTRO system had informed about the presence of around 300 active mobile phones at the site before the air strike by India.
Killed 400 Terrorists: Radha Mohan Singh
While enumerating the achievements of the Modi government, Agricultural Minister Radha Mohan Singh said that “the brave soldiers of India had entered into their (JeM) home and killed 400 of their terrorists.”
What the Armed Forces Said
Amid the confusion, Air Vice Marshall RGK Kapoor on 1 March, said it would be “premature” to ascertain the number of the casualty in the Balakot strikes. At another press conference on 4 March, Air Chief BS Dhanoa said that the IAF had conducted “successful raids,” however, he refused to comment on the number of casualties inflicted, calling it “the government’s prerogative.”
The IAF is not in a postilion to clarify the number of casualties, he said.
Read the chronological breakdown of the different claims made, about the number of casualties inflicted in Balakot, since 26 February.
Sitharaman Provided Balakot Casualty Numbers to Journalists: Report
Even as the BJP and the Congress engage in active debate over the casualty figures of the Balakot air strike, several media outlets keep running a “government source-based” number. But who is the source, if, according to Sitharaman, government is not revealing the details.
According to a Newslaundry report, three reporters confirmed that Nirmala Sitharaman herself had provided the “over 300” casualty figure to some journalists during an “off-the-record” briefing with them outside Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s office at around 11:30 am on the day of the strike.
However, it must be noted here that CNN News18 had put out the numbers two hours before Sitharaman’s briefing. It cannot be confirmed if the numbers came from her or were there other “top government sources” leaking casualty figures to the journalists. However, media houses ran with figures which were either unofficial or off-record.