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Did the United States know of India’s strike on Balakot? And how much?

The Mirage 2000 air strikes took place days after NSA Ajit Doval’s telephonic conversation with his US counterpart. It could not be immediately confirmed if the US had an exact heads-up from India, or just a general one that New Delhi will be carrying out retaliatory action.

world Updated: Feb 27, 2019 09:06 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Asked about India’s right to self-defence, US President Donald Trump told reporters last week that ‘India is looking at something very strong’.(AFP)

Did United States President Donald Trump know something about the Balakot strike?

Asked about India’s right to self-defence, the President told reporters last week, “India is looking at something very strong. And, I mean, India just lost almost 50 people and... with an attack, so I can understand that also.”

And his national security adviser John Bolton had on his own told reporters at a briefing that he had conveyed to his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval in a phone call “that we support India’s right to self-defence”.

The Mirage 2000 air strikes took place on Tuesday just days after that conversation. It could not be immediately confirmed if the US had an exact heads-up from India, or just a general one that New Delhi will be carrying out retaliatory action.

“We have nothing to add to what has already been said,” an administration official said when asked if the US had advance knowledge of the air strike.

In Delhi, the ministry of external affairs had foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale brief ambassadors of P-5 countries, that include the US. One US official pointed to Trump’s remarks that India is looking at “something very strong”.

But there is a general acknowledgement in the US of India’s right to carry out retaliatory actions to terrorist attacks carried out by Pakistan-based outfits since the Uri surgical strike in 2016.

The retaliatory action had come around Doval’s phone call with then US NSA Susan Rice. “Pakistan (should) take effective action to combat and delegitimise United Nations-designated terrorist individuals and entities,” the White House had said in a readout of their conversation.

There was no mention of India’s right to carry out a retaliatory strike in self- defence. But Peter Lavoy, a senior White House official at the time, said a few days later after the surgical strike, “We do empathise with India’s perception that they do need to respond militarily.”

But, he had added, “We want to highlight our strong interest in seeing caution prevail”.

First Published: Feb 27, 2019 05:58 IST