US personnel recently counted Pakistan’s F-16s and found none missing.
Tariq Butt / Staff Reporter and Reuters
ISLAMABAD: India’s claims of shooting down a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet in an aerial battle during the February standoff between the two nuclear powers have been debunked by the US Defence officials, Foreign Policy Magazine said.
An Indian jet was brought down during the fight and its pilot captured when he ejected on the Pakistani side of the border. India said it, too, had shot down a Pakistani aircraft and the air force displayed pieces of a missile that it said had been fired by a Pakistani F-16 before it went down.
The US officials with direct knowledge of the situation told the Foreign Policy that US personnel recently counted Islamabad’s F-16s and found none missing.
According to the report, all the claims of Indian civil and military leadership appeared to be wrong as the count, conducted by US authorities on the ground in Pakistan negated New Delhi’s version of events, suggesting that Indian authorities may have misled the international community about what happened that day.
It is widely believed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi government's claim to down Pakistani jet in Feb.27 dogfight was made to gain political mileage. The Indian opposition parties too accused Modi of exaggerating the event to improve its image in the upcoming elections.
Pakistan itself invited the US to count the planes after the incident as part of an end-user agreement signed when the foreign military sale was finalised, the report said.
Policy said in a report published on Thursday two US defence officials with direct knowledge of the matter said US personnel had done a count of Pakistan's F-16s and found none missing.
The F-16s are made by Lockheed Martin and, under an end-user agreement, the United States required the host country to allow for regular inspections to ensure they were accounted for and protected, Foreign Policy said.
"Truth always prevails," Pakistan's army spokesman said in a Tweet. "Time for India to speak truth about false claims & actual losses on their side."
Pakistan had shot down two Indian aircraft violating its airspace and captured pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was later released as a gesture of peace.
The report, authored by magazine’s Pentagon Correspondent Lara Seligman, stated that it is possible that in the heat of combat, Varthaman, flying a vintage MiG-21 Bison, got a lock on the Pakistani F-16, fired, and genuinely believed he scored a hit.
However, the assessment of the Feb.27 events by the concerned US officials, confirmed that no Pakistani aircraft was hit.
They also concluded that Pakistan did use F-16s that day. Pakistan military spokesperson, Major General Asif Ghafoor, in an interview has confirmed that all Pakistani jets were airborne during fight with India.
On question of Pakistan’s violation of end-user agreement with US, the Penagon official told Seligman that the agreement did not involve any terms limiting the use of the F-16s.
"It would be incredibly naive for us to believe that we could sell some type of equipment to Pakistan that they would not intend to use in a fight,” the official said.
Details of the India-Pakistan air engagement have not been provided by either side. If the US report turns out to be true, it would be a further blow to Modi's claim that India had taught Pakistan a lesson.
The success of Indian air strikes on a camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammed group in northwestern Pakistan has also been thrown into doubt after satellite images showed little sign of damage.
High-resolution satellite images reviewed by Reuters last month showed that a religious school run by Jaish appeared to be still standing days after India claimed its warplanes had hit the Islamist group's training camp on the site and killed a large number of militants.
Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, heading into a tight election next week, is campaigning on a platform of tough national security, especially with regard to arch foe Pakistan. New Delhi blames Pakistan for stoking a 30-year revolt in Muslim-majority Kashmir but Islamabad denies any involvement.
Foreign Policy said Pakistan had invited US officials to physically count the F-16 planes after the incident. Some of the aircraft were not immediately available for inspection due to the conflict, so it took US personnel several weeks to account for all of the jets, one of the officials was quoted as saying.
The count had now been completed and all aircraft "were present and accounted for", the official was quoted as saying.
India has separately asked the United States for its view on whether the use of the F-16s by Pakistan was a violation of the end-user agreement.
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