Pak F-16 shot down, India loses MiG-21; pilot in Pak captivity
JAMMU, Feb 27: In yet another major success, which comes just a day after Indian Air Force (IAF) destroyed Jaish-e-Mohammed’s biggest training camp at Balakote deep inside Pakistan, the IAF fighter jets today repulsed major Pakistan Air Force (PAF) attempt to cause extensive damage on Indian troops positions or infrastructure by shooting down PAF’s F-16 fighter aircraft and forcing others to beat the hasty retreat in Rajouri and Poonch sectors but, in the process, lost fighter MiG-21 Bison jet, whose pilot Wing Commander Abhin-andan Varthaman ejected in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and was held captive by the Pakistan army.
Highly placed sources told the Excelsior that at around 9.45 am, Indian radar systems including Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) and ground systems observed simultaneous activity at different Pakistani air bases in Rawalpindi, Sargodha and Islamabad. A formation of 10 PAF jets took off at 9.50 am and it was observed that the fighter jets started gathering together over Northern areas of Pakistan in an attempt to attack Indian targets in parts of Jammu and Kashmir.
IAF’s Air Defence network was activated immediately and five combat aircrafts including two MiG-21s and three Sukhoi-30s were scrambled from Awantipora and Srinagar airfields, which were closest to the area of intrusion in Nowshera sector of Rajouri district.
While three Pakistani jets violated Indian air space, the package of the aircrafts deployed by PAF for the operation was “significantly large” as it comprised a fleet of JF-17 and F-16 combat aircrafts, sources said, adding the Pakistani jets targeted the Indian Army bases in Krishna Ghati and Nangi Tekri in Poonch district and an ammunition point at Narian in Nowshera sector of Rajouri district.
Sources revealed that the PAF jets had an Indian Army Brigade Headquarters and an ammunition point as their target when they dropped three non-guided bombs on them but missed the target with significant distance. Images from the site of exploded ordnance revealed shallow craters in grassy knolls.
Minutes after Pakistani jets violated the Indian air space, the IAF’s MiG-21 and Sukhoi jets engaged with the enemy jets and successfully thwarted their attempts to bomb a number of key military installations.
In the ensuing engagement, a MiG-21 Bison of the IAF shot down a Pakistani jet, F-16, firing an R-73 air-to-air missile before being hit. It was not clear whether the IAF jet was fired from a Pakistani jet or was brought down by a missile attack by ground-based air defence, sources said.
All Indian Air Force personnel returned safely to their air bases around 10.45 am barring Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who ejected after MiG-21 Bison was shot down but landed in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and was held captive by the Pakistan army.
“Two parachutes were sighted-one was of the Indian pilot of the MiG-21 Bison and other of the Pakistani pilot of the downed jet,” sources said, adding that immediate scrambling of Indian fighter jets helped foil Pakistani attempts to target Army units and ammunition depot, thereby, thwarting Pakistani designs of inflicting heavy losses of the Indian military.
Sources said bombs fired by the Pakistani jets caused no casualties or damage excepting minor injuries to a minor girl, who was hit by splinters of the explosion. Areeba Kounsar daughter of Mohammad Kabeer of Dheri Layote was the only victim of Pakistan bombing as she was hit by shells of one of the blasts. She was later evacuated from the spot and shifted to hospital, where she was responding to the treatment.
Pakistan’s negligible response came a day after Indian Air Force entered 80 kilometers deep inside Pakistan and destroyed Jaish-e-Mohammed’s Balakote training camp at Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, killing 350 militants including top commanders, trainers and recruits. The Indian air strikes were pre-emptive and aimed at neutralizing Jaish cadre, who were planning another terror attack like Pulwama in which 44 CRPF jawans were martyred on February 14.
In the afternoon, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar, accompanied by Air Vice Marshal R G K Kapoor, said details are being ascertained about Pakistan’s claim of having captured one Indian pilot.
“Pakistan has responded this morning by using its 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,” Kumar said.
He said the Pakistan Air Force activity 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,” he said.
Soon after the airspace violation by Pakistani fighter jets, the authorities ordered closure of all civilian airports in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Union Territory of Chandigarh and diverted some of the flights midair to other airports.
A decision, according to sources, was taken as precautionary measure to keep all Airports free from movement of civilian aircrafts to be used by the fighter jets of Indian Air Force in case of any eventuality. However, late in the afternoon, the authorities withdrew the order to shut the Airports and allowed them for movement of civilian flights.
Airports of Jammu, Srinagar and Leh in Jammu and Kashmir and six other Airports in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Union Territory of Chandigarh remained shut for nearly five hours, sources said.
Meanwhile, Army and BSF continued to strengthen their positions along the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB) in Rajouri, Poonch, Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts to meet with any violation of ground or airspace by the Pakistan army.
Sources said the troops were well prepared to meet with any eventuality in ground as well as air from Pakistan side and all formations of Army and Air Force were on high alert.
Pakistan army again started heavy mortar shelling and firing on the LoC in Balakote, Mankote and Mendhar sectors of Poonch district at 7 pm today targeting forward posts of the Army and civilian locations. The Indian side retaliated effectively.
There was intense exchange of shelling and firing on the LoC till late tonight, sources said, adding that when the reports last came in, there had been no casualties or damage on the Indian side. Pakistan was reported to have suffered some damage but exact quantum wasn’t known.
Yesterday also, Indo-Pak troops had exchanged heavy shelling and firing on the LoC in Poonch sector and, in the retaliation, number of Pakistan army troops were killed or injured. Five Pakistan army posts were destroyed by the Indian soldiers.