250, 300, 400... Discrepancies Over Balakot Death Toll Mount
A pertinent question remains: Just how many terrorists were killed in the IAF’s air strikes in PoK’s Balakot?
Within hours of the aerial strikes conducted by the Indian Air Force (IAF) in Balakot (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) on 26 February – with a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror camp as the intended target – numbers of casualties as high as 300-350 were quoted across various news platforms and social media portals.
Since then, different and highly varied claims have been made to depict the potency of the strike and the casualties inflicted upon the Masood Azhar-led terror outfit.
Here is a chronological breakdown of the different claims made, about the number of casualties inflicted in Balakot, since 26 February:
26 February – Day of the Attack
VIJAY GOKHALE, INDIAN FOREIGN SECRETARY
In the Modi government’s first official briefing following the attack, Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said that a “very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated.”
YOGI ADITYANATH, UTTAR PRADESH CM
UP CM Yogi Adityanath reacted to the Balakot air strikes later in the day, while on his visit to the state’s Etah district. He said that India had avenged the deaths of 40 CRPF personnel in the Pulwama attack by killing 400 in Balakot, as per PTI.
News agency ANI quoted sources as saying that “over 300 terrorists were eliminated in the covert operation by the Indian Air Force.”
PTI, quoting official sources, claimed that IAF had inflicted heavy damage in Balakot as the camp was akin to "a sitting duck target". The sources claimed that the strikes killed up to 350 terrorists.
YOGI ADITYANATH, UTTAR PRADESH CM
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.”
RGK KAPOOR, AIR VICE MARSHAL
While responding to a question by ANI on the bombing on JeM terror camps in Balakot, Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor had said that it was premature to say number of casualties on the camp, and added that “whatever we intended to destroy we got that result.”
PIYUSH GOYAL, RAILWAY MINISTER
On being asked a question at a public forum on the competing narratives surrounding India's air strikes in Balakot, Union Minister Piyush Goyal responded saying, as per India Today, "Are you convinced first?" "Are you a part of this narrative that is trying to belittle our armed forces?"
SS AHLUWALIA, UNION MINISTER
Amid the Opposition's demand for proof on the Centre's claims of the number of terrorists killed, Union Minister SS Ahluwalia said that the purpose of the strike was “not to cause human casualty.”
AMIT SHAH, BJP PRESIDENT
Speaking at a rally in Ahmedabad, BJP President Amit Shah said that “more than 250 terrorists” were killed in the air strike carried out by the Indian Air Force, as per PTI.
BS DHANOA, IAF CHIEF
Sidestepping the raging debate on the number of casualties in the Balakot strike, IAF Chief BS Dhanoa said, as per PTI, "We don't count human casualties. We count what targets we have hit or not hit."
PRAKASH JAVADEKAR, UNION MINISTER
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, as per PTI.
VK SINGH, UNION MINISTER
Union minister VK Singh also apparently stood by Shah’s claim of 250 killed as he explained that the casualty count given by the BJP chief was an estimate. "One way is to go there and count and come back. Exact figure will be known only when you are there. This is not a game of marbles,” he said, as per PTI.
NIRMALA SITHARAMAN, DEFENCE MINISTER
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday said that the Balakot air strike was "not a military action" as there was no damage to civilians.
Speaking on the number of casualties she said that the “foreign secretary gave a figure" but later corrected herself to say that "he didn’t give a figure... he gave a statement and that is the Government of India’s position.”
The National Technical Research Organisation claimed to have found out that there were 300 active mobile links in the area, which sources quoted by ANI said, confirmed that the air strike by Indian Air Force was a success.
RAVI SHANKAR PRASAD, LAW MINISTER
Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, while addressing the media, 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, as per ANI.
RAJNATH SINGH, HOME MINISTER
Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that the number of terrorists killed in the air strike by 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.
VK SINGH, UNION MINISTER
VK Singh used a mosquito metaphor to address the debate on casualty figures in the Balakot air strikes, asking if he was expected to sit and count how many he killed at night or "sleep in comfort".
RADHA MOHAN SINGH, AGRICULTURE MINISTER
While enumerating the achievements of the Modi government, Radha Mohan Singh said that “the brave soldiers of India had entered into their (JeM) home and killed 400 of their terrorists.”
(With inputs from PTI, ANI)
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