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‘Not Aware of Any Probe on Pak F-16 Count’: US Defence Department

US defence officials told Foreign Policy (FP) that US personnel counted Islamabad’s F-16s and found none missing.

Updated
India
3 min read
A US report has raised doubts over India’s claims of shooting down one of Pakistan’s F-16 fighter jet planes in an air skirmish between two nations on 27 February.
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In the latest twist over whether one of Pakistan Air Force's F-16 fighter jet was shot down in a skirmish between India and Pakistan on 27 February, the US Department of Defence has now said that it wasn't aware of any probe that was carried out to find out if there was any F-16 missing, reported Hindustan Times.

This comes after two senior US defence officials told Foreign Policy (FP) that US personnel counted Islamabad's F-16s and found none missing.

Meanwhile, the US State Department told HT:

“As a matter of policy, the Department does not publicly comment on details of government-to-government agreements on end-use monitoring of US-origin defence articles... It is important to note that since January 2018, the United States government has suspended security assistance to Pakistan.”
US State Department
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Indian Air Forces sources on Friday, 5 April, also responded to the FP report which countered India's claims of shooting down of a PAF F-16 aircraft in the skirmish.

IAF officers briefed journalists on why they insist Wing Commander Abhinandan shot down an F-16 aircraft in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir area. The IAF said, "during the aerial engagement, one MiG-21 Bison of the IAF shot down an F-16 in Nowshera sector."

IAF sources also said that it has conclusive "circumstantial evidence,” including wireless intercepts, signals and graphic captures from Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) and electronic signatures, to conclude that the F-16 jet was shot down during aerial combat.

IAF officers, as quoted by ANI and PTI, also said:

  • Electronic signals from the F-16 aircraft, which was engaged by an MiG-21 Bison, ended abruptly, confirming that it crashed after being hit.
  • Intercepted radio communication of Pakistan Air Force confirmed that one of the F-16s that attacked India on 27 February did not return to its base.
  • Radio intercepts showed that two pilots had ejected after the aerial engagement and one of them was admitted to a Pakistani hospital.
  • One of the aircraft was an IAF MIG-21 Bison and the other a PAF aircraft.
  • Electronic signatures gathered by them indicate the PAF aircraft was an F-16.

India had claimed that a Pakistani F-16 was shot down by one of its fighter pilots. According to India’s account of the air battle, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was captured by Pakistan, managed to shoot down the F-16 before his own flight crashed.

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Pakistani military spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor, however, denied that any F-16 had been shot and added that in the Pakistan Air Force operations that day, no F-16 had been deployed.

Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT, told FP that this may affect India’s efforts to deter Pakistan in the future.

“It looks increasingly like India failed to impose significant costs on Pakistan, but lost a plane and a helicopter of its own in the process,” Narang told FP.

Eyewitnesses, Electronic Accounts: What India Claims

The Ministry of External Affairs, on 9 March, had said that an Indian Air Force MiG-21 Bison, piloted by Varthaman, shot down a Pakistan Air Force F-16 fighter aircraft, adding that there are eyewitness accounts, as well as electronic evidence for it.

It also said that evidence on the use of F-16 fighter jets by Pakistan is there in the form of parts of AMRAAM missile recovered from the site, which is carried only by F-16 aircraft of the Pakistan Air Force.

Pakistan’s Denial

Pakistan had rejected India's assertion that a PAF F-16 fighter jet was shot down as "completely baseless", saying that the Indian government continues to "mislead" the people for domestic political mileage.

"The Indian government and the Indian media continue to spread disinformation to mislead the international community and the Indian people for domestic political gains, while trying to cover up its failures and resultant embarrassment," Pakistan Foreign Office (FO) had said on 9 March.

"False claims of an Indian aircraft having shot down a Pakistani F-16 are completely baseless, meant only to satisfy Indian domestic audience, but in the process, they also exposed their lies one after another," it said.

However, while addressing a press conference just hours after the air skirmish in February, Ghafoor had also said,

“Our ground forces arrested two pilots; one of them was injured and has been shifted to CMH [Combined Military Hospital] and, god-willing, he will be taken care of. The other one is with us.”

The mystery of this second pilot was never resolved.

India and Pakistan had engaged in aerial combat on 26-27 February, after Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e Mohammad claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama on 14 February, which killed over 40 CRPF soldiers.

India, on 26 February, attacked JeM terror camps in Pakistan territory across the LoC, following which, Pakistan attacked the next day.

(With inputs from Foreign Policy and PTI)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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