PAF violates Indian airspace; IAF shoots down 1, but loses 1
A day after India’s punitive air strikes against terrorist camps in Pakistan, the possibility of a major escalation increased with both the sides downing one fighter jet of each other and Islamabad capturing an IAF pilot who landed in its territory after ejecting from the shot-down jet.
His captivity is now in the focus with the Indian Government assessing all pros and cons to ensure his safe return even as countering Pakistan militarily.
While New Delhi said an IAF pilot was “missing in action,” Pakistan claimed it shot down two Indian jets which entered its airspace and captured two pilots. Later, Paksitan made U-turn and said it captured only one Indian pilot.
Earlier in the day, in a terse Press statement, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar, accompanied by Assistant Chief of Air Staff(space)Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor, said details are being ascertained about Pakistan’s claim of having captured one Indian pilot.
“There is only one pilot under Pakistan Army’s custody. Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman is being treated as per norms of military ethics,” Pakistani military spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor said in the evening after claiming in the morning that two IAF pilots were captured.
Incidentally, during the Kargil war in 1999, an IAF pilot K Nachiketa was captured by the Pakistanis and released after some days as per Geneva Convention norms regarding treatment of prisoners of war (POW).
Giving details of the Pakistani action on Wednesday morning, the External Affairs Ministry officials said Pakistani fighter jets violated Indian airspace in Jammu region’s Poonch and Rajouri sectors but were pushed back by Indian aircraft. The jets dropped bombs while returning, but there were no reports of damage, they said.
“India had informed about counter terrorism (CT) action it took yesterday(Tuesday) against a training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) in Pakistan based on credible evidence that JeM intended to launch more attacks. Against this counter terrorism action, Pakistan has responded this morning (Wednesday) 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 (PAF) 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 in their custody. We are ascertaining the facts,” he said.
The aerial engagement took place soon after at least three Pakistani fighter jets, including F-16, crossed the Line of Control (LoC) in Rajouri district around 10.30 am.
The jets first dropped a bomb in Krishna Ghati area and then turned towards Narian in adjoining Naushera when the Indian air combat patrol aircraft team including SU-30s and MIG-21s intercepted and engaged the intruding aircraft, sources said.
In the ensuing fight one F-16 of Pakistan Air Force was shot down and crashed on the other side of the LOC. A MIG-21 of IAF while chasing the Pakistani jets was also shot by air defence teams of the Pakistani army. The Indian jet crashed there and Varthman was captured by the Pakistanis.
Video clips on the social media showing the IAF officer being bitten up.
Explaining the significance of Pakistan’s retaliation to the Indian attack deep inside its territory on Tuesday, officials said the PAF wanted to target brigade headquarters of the Army in Krishna Ghati and an ammunition point of the Army in Narian in Naushera. The Pakistani jets dropped a bomb in Krishna Ghati but there was report of any damage.
The Pakistani jets entered the Indian airspace from the Lam(India)-Khuretta (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) in the Krishna Ghati region to undertake their mission of hitting military installations, they said adding the ammunition point is transit depot for disbursing mortars and other ammunition like bullets and rockets to the troops deployed on the LOC.
As tension mounted after the incident, the entire airspace north of New Delhi was briefly “vacated”. Nine airports in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab were closed for civilian traffic for some part of the morning but opened later in the day.
Jammu and Kashmir was the centre of much of the action on a day of escalating tensions between the two neighbours. There was nightlong heavy firing and shelling on forward and civilian areas from across the LoC in Rajouri and Poonch with the Army and the Border Security Force (BSF) on the highest degree of alertness. All residents of the border areas were asked to remain inside their homes and not venture outside.
Meanwhile, Pakistan also closed its airspace for commercial flights and suspended flight operations across major airports, including in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, for an indefinite period.
The airport will be used for “military purposes” till it is reopened for commercial activities, an official told DawnNewsTV, adding that a red alert has also been issued, said PTI.
Addressing a Press conference in Islamabad, Ghafoor said one of the IAF aircraft crashed in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir while the other fell in Jammu and Kashmir. “This morning PAF (Pakistan Air Force) jets while remaining in Pakistani airspace engaged six targets across the LoC,” he said.
“Our pilots locked on those six targets and we struck on open places,” he said, adding that it was decided that the PAF will not hit the military targets. He said some of the targets were in Bhimber galli and Narian area where the supply depots were engaged from a distance.
“After the PAF strikes, 2 IAF jets entered Pakistani airspace and the PAF took them on and the two IAF were shot down. The wreckage of one (aircraft) fell inside Pakistan (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) while the second fell inside India,” Ghafoor said.
“Original targets were military posts and administrative facilities but we did not target those,” he said.
The spokesman claimed that targets engaged by the PAF were changed to avoid any loss of life.“It was not retaliation in the true sense but it was an action to show that we can retaliate. We do not want to push the region to war. We want peace,” the spokesman asserted. He also rejected reports that Pakistan used F-16 fighters and one of them was shot down by India.
Thursday, 28 February 2019 | Rahul Dutta | New Delhi
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