NEW DELHI: India’s air force presented what it called “irrefutable evidence” Monday that it downed a Pakistan fighter jet in February, as the regional foes offer competing narratives over what happened in the dogfight.
Pakistan has repeatedly denied that it lost an F-16 over the skies in Kashmir while a US magazine, citing top defence officials, has also cast doubt on India’s assertion that a jet was shot down.
India lost an MiG-21 Bison in the aerial skirmish and its pilot was captured by Pakistan and later returned, cooling one of the most serious military confrontations between the nuclear-armed rivals in decades.
But India has long maintained that its pilot first fired on an F-16, sending the damaged jet crashing into Pakistan-administered Kashmir – something Islamabad says never happened.
In a press conference Air Vice Marshal R.G.K Kapoor repeated this assertion, reading out the evidence gathered by India and displaying radar images he said proved the Pakistan jet was struck and crashed.
“There is no doubt that two aircraft went down in the aerial engagement on February 27, 2019,” Kapoor said Monday, reading from a prepared statement.
India’s air force “has irrefutable evidence of not only the fact that F-16 was used” on the day of the dogfight, but that it was shot down by the Indian jet, he added.
Kapoor said further “credible information and evidence” backed this version of events but could not be released due to confidentiality concerns.
It comes just days after Foreign Policy magazine cited two unnamed senior US defence officials who said that US personnel recently conducted a count of Pakistan’s F-16s and found none missing.
The magazine quoted one of the officials as saying that Pakistan invited the US to physically count its F-16 fleet.
The dogfight happened after Pakistani aircraft entered Indian airspace a day after Indian aircraft carried out an airstrike on what it said was a “terrorist training camp” in Pakistan.
That in turn was in response to a suicide bombing on February 14 in Indian-administered Kashmir that killed 40 Indian troops and which was claimed by a militant group based in Pakistan.
Doubt has also been cast over the success of India’s airstrike, which Amit Shah, president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has claimed killed 250.
Pakistan denied that there was any damage or casualties.
Independent reporting by multiple local and international outlets who visited the site also found no evidence of a major terrorist training camp – or of any infrastructure damage at all.
Pakistan said it shot down two Indian planes and lost none of its own, but India said that it lost only one aircraft.
Initially Pakistan said it had captured two Indian pilots but the military later clarified it had just one pilot in custody.