THE CITIZEN BUREAU | 7 MARCH, 2019
India missed their targets in Pakistan, says report citing commercial satellite imagery
NEW DELHI: Jane's Defence Weekly, a prestigious military and defence affairs publication, has come out with an independent report maintaining that India “missed their targets” in Pakistan. This follows a report by Reuters also maintaining that the specified targets were not hit.
Jane’s goes a step further to address recent reports in the Indian media maintaining that “the small SPICE-250 was employed, penetrating structures before detonating within.” The report points out that “even such a small munition would likely cause significant damage to non-hardened structures such as those at Balakot, resulting in visible debris and structural damage.”
Using 15 August 2018 satellite imagery of the site as its reference point, Jane’s points out that subsequent photographs such as those carried by sections of the Indian media now “to represent a possible weapon penetration point was present in imagery captured on 15 August 2018 and as such cannot represent evidence of internal damage.” In short, either the Indian media carried old photographs, or the supposed damage is also visible in photographs taken long before the alleged attack.
However, the report confirms “signs of activity” in the said area as confirmed by satellite imagery from August and November 2018. It says that the 15 August satellite images do in fact show 40 persons lined up. But maintains that this facility was not hit. In the process it rubbishes claims, such as by the New York Times quoting sources earlier, that the facility was no longer in use.
Jane’s states categorically: “with no visible damage to the roofs of any structures, and no exterior debris or damage visible, it appears that no weapons struck the structures within the facility”.
“Furthermore, the lack of damage to the complex does not support the Indian government’s assertion that “a very large number” of terrorists were eliminated. The timing of the strike suggests that most occupants of the facility would be asleep indoors, requiring damage to or destruction of various structures to achieve the stated results,” the report adds.
The government had not given an official number, but immediately after the reported strikes “sources” informed the media that the number of terrorists killed could be as many as 300. This was given credence just recently by the ruling party president Amit Shah who said that as many as 250 terrorists had been eliminated. Next day the Indian Air Force chief addressing his first press conference since the Balakot attack made it clear that the IAF could assess targets hit, but not the number of casualties.
In the middle of the controversy over numbers, Reuters and now Jane's Defence Weekly have both come out with independent reports citing different satellite imagery sources to maintain that the target specified by India had not been hit.
Jane’s says it approached the IAF spokesperson in New Delhi for comment who said, ‘“We are not in agreement with your assessment of the damage as analysed”, but did not elaborate.’
The Jane’s report further states:
Shortly after the attack, which was carried out in retaliation for a 14 February suicide bombing claimed by JeM in Indian-administered Kashmir, India’s foreign secretary released a statement claiming that “a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders, and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated” as a result of the IAF’s “pre-emptive action”.
While more detailed official comments on the attack have yet to be released by New Delhi, the inference is that significant damage was done to the camp, which is located in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, some 80 km north of the capital Islamabad.
However, the alleged training camp – the location of which has been established using photographs taken on the ground – showed no visible damage in satellite imagery taken after the strike.
Neither the Indian nor Pakistani militaries have identified the location of the target, but the latter released photographs showing where it said Indian bombs fell, missing the target. This enabled the location of the strike to be identified as a valley about 2 km west of Bisian, a small town south of Balakot on the Kunhar River.
There is only one facility in that valley that could be a training camp and its gatehouse matches a photograph published by the Indian media showing the alleged JeM camp, which has reportedly previously been used as a madrassa.
The northern area of interest contains the largest number of structures and is adjacent to an open space. The DigitalGlobe imagery captured on 27 February shows no damage to the structures in this area.”
Jane’s detect signs of damage, southeast of the possible impact point. Also that both the August and November 2018 images show people within the open space, suggesting that the facility remained in use at this time. “The August image in particular showed 40 people lined up in ranks” and thus seemed to contradict a report in the New York Times quoting military analysts who claimed that “any militant training areas at the site, in the Pakistani province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, had long since dispersed”.
The report identifies an area along the northern edge of the central area that “shows two possible signs of damage. A possible weapon impact crater is visible in the open space bordering the northern and central areas. This is the only possible weapon impact located within the JeM facility identified at this time.
Southeast of the possible impact point is an area that, when compared with August 2018 imagery, appears to have suffered damage. However, Airbus Defence and Space imagery captured on 16 November 2018 shows that this area was largely cleared of vegetation well before the airstrike”.
And in effect, “a comparison of pre- and post-strike imagery suggests that two main structures in the southern area of interest, between the central area and entry control point, received no damage.”