New Delhi: All F-16 combat jets of the Pakistan Air Force are accounted for, the US-based 'Foreign Policy' magazine said in a report published late Thursday, citing two unidentified American defence officials, contradicting an account put out by India that its air force in February had downed a Pakistan Air Force F-16.
According to the report, US personnel had done a count of Pakistan’s F-16s and found none missing. The F-16s are manufactured by Lockheed Martin and an end-user agreement requires the buyer country to allow for regular inspections to ensure they are accounted for. Pakistan had invited American officials to physically count the F-16s after the incident. Some of the aircraft were not immediately available for inspection due to the conflict, so it took several weeks to account for all the jets, the report quoted one of the unnamed officials as saying.
The count had now been completed and all aircraft “were present and accounted for," the official said.
There was no official comment from the Indian Air Force or the Indian government on Friday regarding the report in the US magazine.
But strategic analyst Brhama Chellaney , with the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research think tank, said in a Twitter post: "The "Foreign Policy" piece names no official. The US might be reluctant to admit that an F-16 was possibly shot down by an obsolete warplane like the MiG-21. Whatever the truth, the fact remains that India imposed no notable costs on Pakistan to deter further terrorist attacks."
The reaction from Pakistan was tweeted by Asif Ghafoor, spokesman for the Pakisatni military.
"Allah be praised, truth always prevails. Time for India to speak truth about false claims & actual losses on their side including the second aircraft shot down by Pakistan. India needs introspection especially over atrocities in IOK (Indian Occupied Kashmir). Region needs peace, progress & prosperity," Ghafoor said in his post.
In all its statements on the aerial combat with Pakistan, New Delhi had insisted that a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet was shot down by the Indian Air Force.
“In that aerial engagement ( on 27 February), one Pakistan Air Force fighter aircraft was shot down by a MiG 21 Bison of the Indian Air Force," Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said on 27 February in a statement to reporters in New Delhi. “The Pakistani aircraft was seen by ground forces falling from the sky on the Pakistan side," Kumar had said.
At a press conference on 28 February, the Indian Air Force had displayed before journalists parts of an air to air missile (AMRAAM) as evidence to "conclusively" prove that Pakistan deployed US-manufactured F-16 fighter jets during the aerial raid targeting Indian military installations in Jammu and Kashmir. The Indian Air Force had said that Pakistan did not possess any other fighter aircraft in its inventory other than the F-16 that was capable of firing an AMRAAM missile.
People familiar with the developments had later said that New Delhi had taken up the matter with the US at various levels, urging Washington to seek an inventory of Pakistan’s F-16 fleet. India maintained that sophisticated military hardware like the F-16 that Pakistan procured over the years from the US ostensibly for use in its war against terrorism would be used against India.
The 'Foreign Policy' report comes after a statement put out by the Pakistani military earlier this week in which it said “no Pakistani F-16 was hit by the Indian Air Force," on 27 February and that its F-16s were deployed in self defence.
“As regards PAF (Pakistan Air Force) action for strikes across LOC (Line of Control in Kashmir) it was done by (Chinese made) JF17 from within Pakistan airspace," the Pakistani statement had said. “Later when 2 Indian jets crossed LOC they were shot down by PAF. Whether it was F-16 or JF17 which shot down 2 Indian aircraft is immaterial. Even if F-16 have been used as at that point in time complete, (the) PAF was airborne, including F-16s. The fact remains that Pakistan Airforce shot down two Indian jets in self defence. India can assume any type of their choice even F-16. Pakistan retains the right to use anything and everything in its legitimate self defence," it had added.
Tensions between India and Pakistan spiralled in the wake of the 14 February suicide attack in Kashmir’s Pulwama region, in which a convoy carrying Indian paramilitary personnel was targeted by a suicide bomber. On 26 February, India said it had bombed a terrorist training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot region in Khyber Paktunkhwa province. In retaliation, Pakistani fighter jets targeted Indian military installations in Kashmir on 27 February. India scrambled its fighter jets to thwart the attack and in the ensuing dogfight, an Indian Mig Bison aircraft was shot down and its pilot captured by Pakistan.