Close watch: As journalism goes for a nosedive, India calls the US officials’ bluff on count of Pakistan’s F-16 fighter jets

Lalit Shastri


A Correspondent of The Hindu, who did a piece with the heading “U.S. count of Pakistan’s F-16 fighter jets found none missing, claims American magazine” on April 5 relied upon a report published by “Foreign Policy” to give wider coverage to the “Foreign Policy” story and join in casting serious doubt on the Indian government’s claim that an F-16 was downed.

The Hindu journalist and his newspaper, both obviously were in a hurry to take lead in pushing this story in the public domain and in order to show that journalistic ethics was not being compromised, the Pakistan military spokesman was quoted but with regard to the official Indian reaction, The Hindu story ended with the statement: “The Hindu has reached out to the Indian Embassy in Washington, DC, for a comment.” This was obviously to tell the readers that all efforts were made to ensure the story was not one-sided.

Shortly after publishing the “Foreign Policy” based story which was only backing the Pakistani agenda , The Hindu had egg on its face as the Pentagon denied any audit (of Pak F-16). Question arises, why The Hindu did not publish a story on the Pentagon denial.

The Hindu piece takes off from the “Foreign Policy” story. It says: two U.S. officials have said they counted the F-16 aircraft in Pakistan and found none missing, throwing doubts on the Indian government’s claim that it had shot down an F-16 during an aerial engagement with Pakistan on February 27.

Just like some other journalists of his ilk, The Hindu Correspondent in question didn’t get a tour of Balakot but apparently needs proof from the IAF. Stories on similar lines, as published by The Hindu, were published by a section of the media

The Hindu story in question was followed up by the same newspaper with a rejoinder from the IAF.

The Rejoinder

“All attempts of PAF to attack any targets were thwarted by the IAF. During the aerial engagement that followed, one Mig-21 of the IAF shot down one F-16 in Nowshera sector,” the IAF has said adding during the aerial engagement on February 27, a Mig-21 Bison shot down a Pakistan Air Force (PAF) jet and electronic signatures confirm it as an F-16.” Indian Air Force (IAF).

Indian Defence authorities have based their conclusion about the downing of an F-16 based on evidence, such as images from AWACS, debris recovered from crash-site and wireless intercepts of Pak army communication to indicate that their aircraft had not returned to base.

Post Balakot airstrike targeting terror camps in the wake of the Pulwama terror attack, Pakistan had been left gasping when a Pak Air Force F-16 was brought down by an IAF MiG-21 fighter jet on 27 February 2019. The US report is now being used to the hilt by Pakistan as a face-saver.

“Truth always prevails. Time for India to speak truth about false claims and actual losses on their side including the second aircraft shot down by Pakistan,” Pakistan military spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor has said – as quoted by The Hindu.

Both Pakistan and the US (officials) should know that it doesn’t take a month to count the f-16.

The report published by “Foreign Policy” is only a reflection that the US is not going to accept that an antiquated MIG-21 had shot down a frontline US fighter. When it comes to Pakistan, it is too well known that Pakistan never admits the truth. Everyone knows what happened when they lost Bangladesh, when they lost Kargil, or the surgical strikes.

Setting the record straight

On 27 March 2019, Pakistani military spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor had claimed that two Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots had been arrested. One pilot was injured and was shifted to a hospital, while another one was unhurt, he had told media-persons in Islamabad. He also told journalists that one of the IAF aircraft crashed in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir while the other fell in Jammu and Kashmir.

A day later, on 28 February 2019, The Indian defence authorities issued a statement to convey to the entire world that in the aerial combat that ensued one F-16 of PAF was shot down by an IAF MiG-21 Bison. The F-16 crashed and fell across the LOC in Pak occupied Jammu and kashmir (POJ&K).

It was also placed on record that the IAF lost one MiG-21 in the aerial engagement and though the Pilot ejected safely his parachute drifted into POJ&K where he was taken into custody by Pakistan Army.

It was also underscored in this statement that there were many factually incorrect statements that made by Pakistan in this regard.

India made it categorically clear that the first blatant disinformation was that two IAF aircraft were shot down by Pakistan and three pilots were downed. This figure was later revised downwards to two IAF aircraft and two Pilots. The fact however, was that Indian Army units had reported sighting two parachutes falling in the POJ&K which were of two F-16 pilots shot down by the IAF MiG-21 Bison. Pakistan later in the evening changed its statement to say that one Indian pilot (Abhinandan Varthaman) was in their custody. Therefore, it was only by late evening that Pakistan accepted the fact. Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who had shot down the F-16, was released and returned to India on March 1.

Pakistan claimed that they intentionally dropped weapons in open space where there was no human presence or military posts. The fact is that the PAF aircraft targeted military installations. However they were intercepted by IAF fighter aircraft that thwarted their plans. Although PAF bombs fell in Indian Army Formation compounds, they were unable to cause any significant damage to the Military Installations due to swift IAF response.

Pakistan also stated that no F-16s were used in the operation and no Pakistani Plane was downed by Indian Air Force. In response to this India had made it clear that there was enough evidence to show that F-16s were used in this mission and Pakistan was trying to hide this fact. Also, parts of AMRAAM Air to Air Missile that is carried only on the F-16s in PAF were recovered East of Rajauri within the Indian territory. Therefore, the fact that was especially highlighted by India was that one F-16 of PAF was shot down by an IAF MiG-21 Bison aircraft.

The chain of events – a day after the Balakot airstrike

In the morning of 27 February 2019, the India Air Defence system was on full alert. Build up of PAF aircraft on their side of LoC was noticed in time and additional aircraft were scrambled to tackle the adversary. In their attempt to attack Indian ground targets, PAF aircraft were engaged effectively. From IAF side, Mirage-2000, Su-30 and MiG-21 Bison aircraft were involved in the engagement. PAF aircraft were forced to withdraw in a hurry, which is also evident from large missed distances of the weapons dropped by them. During combat, use of F-16 by PAF and multiple launches of AMRAAM were conclusively observed. Prompt and correct tactical action by Su-30 aircraft, in response to AMRAAM launch, defeated the missile. Parts of the missile fell in area East of Rajouri in J&K, injuring a civilian on ground. Detailed report in this regard has already been released by IAF. All the Su-30 aircraft engaged in combat landed back safely. India took a dig at Pakistan then stating that “False claim by Pakistan of shooting down a Su-30, appears to be a cover up for loss of its own aircraft.”

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