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Did India shoot down a Pak F-16? US count says no

Top Story

April 6, 2019

ISLAMABAD: India’s claims of shooting down a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet in an aerial battle during the February standoff have been debunked by the US defence officials.

A leading magazine, Foreign Policy, reported on Thursday that the US authorities on the ground counted F-16 fighter jets in Pakistan's possession and found none missing. The magazine said the findings directly contradict the account of Indian Air Force (IAF) that had claimed that its Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman managed to shoot down a Pakistani F-16 before his own plane was downed by Pakistanis. "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," the report said.

After the stressful conflict, India had asked the US government to investigate whether Pakistan's use of F-16 violated the terms of the foreign military sale agreements. Pakistan, on the other hand, denied using F-16s and rejected the assertion that any of its F-16 planes were hit by the IAF. Along with that Pakistan also invited the US to physically count its F-16s to settle the matter. Generally in such agreements, the United States requires the receiving country to allow US officials to inspect the equipment regularly to ensure it is accounted for and protected, the report added.

The magazine quoted two unnamed US defence officials with direct knowledge of the matter for its report. They said that 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 the jets. After the count, all aircraft were present and accounted for, the officials told the magazine. The report said the count sheds doubt on New Delhi's version of events, "suggesting that Indian authorities may have misled the international community about what happened that day."

It further said that evidence suggests that Pakistan's F-16s were involved in the battle. "The remnants of a US-made AIM-120 air-to-air missile was found near the site; out of all the aircraft involved, only the F-16 can shoot such a weapon."

One of the senior US defence officials with direct knowledge of the count said that Pakistan invited the United States to physically count its F-16 planes after the incident as part of an end-user agreement signed when the foreign military sale was finalised. Generally in such agreements, the United States requires the receiving country to allow US officials to inspect the equipment regularly to ensure it is accounted for and protected. Some of Pakistan’s F-16s were acquired from Jordan through a third-party transfer, but even these are subject to the end-user agreement, said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the Teal Group, an aerospace and defence firm.

“If you are a user of American defense products … you need to go through a very clear process to send those weapons to a third party,” explained Aboulafia, noting that the United States has a rigid process in place to try to ensure its equipment does not fall into the hands of “hostile actors.”

Of Pakistan’s 76 F-16s, 13 were acquired from Jordan, according to fleet data provided to FP by Aviation Week & Space Technology.

Meanwhile, Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Asif Ghafoor, while reacting to the report, said now it is time for India to speak the truth about false claims and actual losses on its side.

"Allah be praised, truth always prevails,” the DG ISPR said in a tweet. He advised that it was time for India to speak the truth about false claims and actual losses on their side including their second aircraft shot down by Pakistan. Asif Ghafoor also said that India also needed introspection especially in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK). "Region needs peace, progress and prosperity," he stressed.

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