India’s Airstrikes Proved Greatly Successful
‒Successful Case of Limited Use of Force‒


Hudson Institute Satoru Nagao

 On February 26, 2019, the Indian Air Force conducted airstrikes on terrorist camps located inside Pakistan. This was the first time India bombed Pakistan since the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. How did the events unfold, and what did India gain from the airstrikes? This article analyzes this event, which offers many contemporary lessons on the use of military force. (Coincidentally, when the airstrikes occurred, the author was in the country, and this report includes first-hand information.)

1. Summary of Events
 What actually happened? Currently, both parties are issuing competing messages in the media, and some reports include “fake news,” so it is difficult to grasp a complete and accurate picture of the facts. However, the broad course of events can be summarized as the following.
 The situation began with a terrorist suicide bombing on February 14, 2019 that killed forty security-forces personnel. The terrorist organization responsible was Jaish-e-Mohammed, which is based in Pakistan and supported by the Pakistani government. This organization has a long history of penetrating the Indian border and conducting terrorist attacks.
 About two weeks later, on February 26, the Indian Air Force responded by sending twelve aircraft to strike three “terrorist training camps” inside Pakistan and Pakistani-occupied Kashmir. India called this attack a “non-military operation” against terrorist organizations and argued for its legitimacy.
 The next day, Pakistan’s air force bombed three Indian military facilities with twenty-four aircraft. India scrambled fighter jets and intercepted Pakistan’s fleet; each side shot down one aircraft in the aerial fight. Pakistan held the downed Indian pilot captive.
 On the twenty-eighth, Pakistan announced its intent to release the captured Indian pilot, and did so on March 1. Competitive action continued as both parties used the media for strategic messaging and issued missile-launch warnings. The two sides also exchanged cross-border artillery fire, and Pakistani flight bans prohibited Indian-registered aircraft and international flights (including civilian) from entering its airspace. India shot down Pakistani drones and deployed large-scale naval assets in the northern Arabian Sea. However, since the pilot’s release, the situation has not escalated.

2. What India Gained
 Despite the heightened tension that followed, India benefited from the airstrikes, which is apparent from military, domestic, and diplomatic perspectives. The following analysis explores those gains.
 One possible assessment is that the airstrikes are India’s most successful application of military pressure on Pakistan ever.