Pakistan used an F-16 aircraft to drop bombs on Indian military installations on Wednesday, senior officials of the defence forces said at a joint press conference in New Delhi on Thursday evening. The aircraft was intercepted and shot down by the Indian Air Force, they said.
Pakistani F-16s had violated Indian airspace on Wednesday morning, a day after India’s attack on a Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist camp in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor refuted Pakistan’s claim that it had dropped bombs on empty ground. “Pakistan claims they intentionally dropped weapons in open space where there was no human presence,” he said. “However, they dropped bombs on military targets. Therefore the escalation has been done not by us by him [Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan].”
“Though Pakistan Air Force bombs were dropped on Indian territory, they were not able to cause any significant damage to our military installations,” Kapoor said. “The Pakistani bombs fell on the campus of army installations but failed to hit targets.”
Kapoor also dismissed Pakistan’s claim that it did not use F-16 jets. “There is enough evidence to show that F-16s were used in this mission through their electronic signatures,” the air force officer said. “Parts of AMRAAM, air to air missile which is carried only on the Pakistani F-16s, were recovered east of Rajouri within the Indian territory.”
“IAF has also learned that Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman will be returned to India tomorrow,” he said. “IAF is happy to learn about this.” The air force officer said that while Varthaman ejected from his MiG-21 safely, his parachute landed in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. When asked if the Air Force saw Pakistan’s decision to release the pilot as a goodwill gesture, Kapoor said it was merely in line with the Geneva Conventions.
Major General Surendra Singh Mahal said that the Indian Army continues to maintain strict vigil both along the Line of Control and the International Border. He said Indian defence systems have been put on high alert.
“The Indian Army is committed to maintaining peace and stability in the nation,” Mahal said.
Rear Admiral Dalbir Singh Gujral said the Indian Navy is in a high state of readiness, on the sea, underwater and in air. “I can assure you of a resolute, swift and strong response by the Navy whenever needed,” he said.
Mahal said the Indian Air Force is ready to destroy terror camps in Pakistan as long as Islamabad continues to sponsor terror. He added that the number of ceasefire violations by Pakistan have risen after the Pulwama terror attack on February 14.
Kapoor said the Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist camps in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were destroyed by IAF jets on February 26. He said the IAF has credible evidence to show that Indian bombs hit the targets they intended to destroy. However, he refused to answer how many terrorists had been killed in the strike, saying it would be premature to speculate.
The air force officer also said that Pakistan initially lied that it had captured three Indian pilots, before downgrading the number to two and finally to one. “Indian Army units had reported sighting two parachutes falling in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir,” he added. “These were of two F-16 pilots.”
Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, Army chief Bipin Rawat and Navy chief Sunil Lanba had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his residence on Tuesday and Wednesday. Earlier in the day, they met Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, ANI reported.
The press conference took place amid tension between the two countries in the wake of the Pulwama terror attack on February 14. It began with air strikes by the Indian Air Force at a camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan on Tuesday morning. India called the operation a “non-military, counter-terror preemptive action”, and said it had eliminated “a large number” of terror operatives. The next day, Pakistan claimed that its Air Force had struck “non-military” targets across the Line of Control in a show of its capability, and had shot down two Indian aircraft that tried to respond. India said it had shot down a Pakistani jet that tried to target military installations.