The five brave pilots of the Indian Air Force (IAF), who bombed a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist training camp in Balakot post-Pulwama terror attack, have been conferred with Vayu Sena Medal (Gallantry). The pilots who will be awarded are Wing Commander Amit Ranjan, Squadron Leader Rahul Basoya, Pankaj Bhujade, BKN Reddy, Shashank Singh, reported news agency ANI.
All of them are Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft pilots.
The airstrike was a top-secret mission and the names of officers involved were not disclosed. As per the sources, NSA Ajit Doval was himself monitoring all the operations as it was carried out and planned under his guidance.
So, this is for the first time when the government has disclosed the names of IAF officers involved in the air strike.
The Air Force had launched air strikes at a terror camp in Balakot, inside Pakistani territory, following the Pulwama terror attack that killed 40 CRPF personnel. This was the first time since the 1971 war that India has used air power against Pakistan.
The next day, Pakistan Air Force retaliated and downed a MiG-21 in an aerial combat and captured an IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, who was handed over to India on March 1.
Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who spent nearly 60 hours in Pakistan's custody after being captured following an aerial dogfight on February 27, will be awarded Vir Chakra gallantry medal on Independence Day, news agency ANI reported.
Squadron Leader Minty Agarwal, who played an important role as a fighter controller during the February 27 aerial conflict post-IAF's airstrikes in Balakot, will also be awarded on this occasion. She will be conferred with Yudh Seva Medal.
What happened in Balakot?
India received intelligence that the Jaish had shifted many in-training terrorists and hardcore operatives, along with their trainers, to the camp, about 20 km from Balakot town, which has facilities for 500 to 700 people and even a swimming pool, sources said.
In a synchronised operation, fighter and other aircraft took off from several air bases in Western and Central commands at about the same time, leaving Pakistani defence officials confused about where they were heading, they said.
A small group of aircraft broke away from the swarm and headed to Balakot where "the sleeping terrorists were sitting ducks for the Indian bombing", said one source.
The entire operation, it is learnt, was over in 20 minutes, starting at 3.45 am and ending at 4.05 am.
"Credible intelligence was received that Jaish was attempting another suicide terror attack in various parts of the country, and the fidayeen jihadis were being trained for this purpose," Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale had said.
"In this operation, a very large number of Jaish terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated," he said, stressing that care was taken to avoid civilian casualties.
At least 325 terrorists and 25 to 27 trainers were at the camp, sources told PTI.