The finding of a US ground report has rejected Indian claims that its air force had shot down an F-16 fighter jet during an aerial dogfight on February 27, a day after the Balakot air strike. According to a report published in a leading American magazine, the US ground report has found that none of the F-16 jets with Pakistan Air Force were missing and all the fighter planes were "present and accounted for".
The Indian Air Force on February 28 had claimed that Pakistan had deployed US-made F-16 fighter jets during an aerial raid and that one of them was shot down by an Indian MIG-21 jet during the aerial battle. The IAF had also displayed pieces of AMRAAM missile, fitted in the Pakistani F-16s as evidence to prove its claims.
"A US count of Pakistan's F-16 fleet has found that all the jets are present and accounted for, a direct contradiction to India's claim that it shot down one of the fighter jets during a February clash," the magazine reported on Thursday.
Pakistan had also denied the Indian claims and categorically said that it didn't deploy F-16 fighter jets. According to the Foreign Policy magazine, Pakistan had invited the United States to physically count its F-16 planes after the incident.
The count of the F-16 fighter planes in Pakistan has been completed, and "all aircraft were present and accounted for," an unnamed defence official was quoted as saying by the magazine. The Department of Defence did not immediately respond to a question on its count of F-16 fighter jets in Pakistan.
MIT professor Vipin Narang said that after the report, it looks like India not only failed in the mission but also lost a plane and a helicopter in the standoff that saw the air forces of the countries indulging in a battle for the first time after Kargil war.
"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 said.
According to an end-user agreement signed when the foreign military sale was, the US requires the receiving country to allow its officials to inspect the equipment regularly to ensure it is accounted for and protected, the news report said.
Tensions between India and Pakistan escalated after the suicide bomber of JeM killed 40 CRPF personnel in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama district on February 14. India launched a counter-terror operation against a JeM training camp in Balakot. The next day, Pakistan Air Force retaliated and downed a MiG-21 in an aerial combat and captured its pilot, who was later released in a "gesture of peace".
(With inputs from agencies)