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Tension Prevails as Indian, Pak Air Forces Duel after Balakot Strike; Indian Pilot Captured

The burning wreckage of the Mi-17 V5 at Budgam near Srinagar

Staff Correspondent

A day after twelve Indian Air Force Mirage 2000 aircraft struck a Jaish-E-Mohammed (JeM) terror camp in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in retaliation to the Pulwama suicide bombing that killed 40 CRPF soldiers, Pakistan Air Force too retaliated by sending across three F-16s. One of the F-16s was shot down in Pakistani territory by an IAF MiG-21 Bison, which in turn was itself downed presumably by Pakistani air defence, with the pilot being captured.

Identifying himself as Wg Cdr Abhinandan Varthaman, he said his service number is 27981 in a video clip recorded by his Pakistan military captors that was going viral on instant messaging services and social media. He is seen blindfolded and bleeding severely from the head. Another clip showed him, presumably minutes after his parachuting into Pakistani territory being assaulted by locals but saved by Pakistani soldiers. A short press conference by Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Raveesh Kumar confirmed that one pilot was “missing in action” but did not verify either his name or his capture by the Pakistani military. IAF’s Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor was also present at the press briefing.

“India had informed about a counter terrorism action it took yesterday against a terrorist training camp of Jaish E Mohammed in Pakistan based on credible evidence that JeM intended to launch more attacks. Against this counter terrorism action, Pakistan has responded this morning by using it’s air force to target military installations on the Indian side. Due to our high state of readiness and alertness, Pakistan’s attempts were foiled successfully. The Pakistan Air Force was detected and the Indian Air Force responded instantly. In that aerial engagement, one Pakistan Air Force fighter aircraft was shot down by a Mig-21 Bison of the Indian Air Force. The Pakistani aircraft was seen by ground forces falling from the sky on the Pakistan side. In this engagement, we have unfortunately lost one Mig 21. The pilot is missing in action. Pakistan has claimed that he is in their custody. We are ascertaining the facts.”

Pakistani social media and television networks meanwhile shared images of earlier IAF crashes from Jodhpur (Mig 2016), Odisha and the recent February 19 Surya Kiran crash from Bengaluru, claiming them to be IAF planes they shot down. The lie was busted by a leading Indian news channel that exposed their inauthenticity. As for the Pakistani ingress into Indian territory, the three F-16s dropped bombs in Rajouri, Nadiyan, Jhangar and Bimber Gali, which the Pakistan military claimed was deliberately on open territory to avoid Indian military and civilian casualties. A Mi-17 V5 helicopter that crashed in Budgam near Srinagar late in the morning was claimed by the Indians to be owing to technical snags but a few reports said it was caused by Pakistani anti-aircraft fire. Both the pilot and the co-pilot were killed in the crash.