India proudly claimed that one of its Russian-designed MiG-21 fighters shot down one of Pakistan’s US-made F-16s before being downed by a Pakistani missile in a dogfight in February 2019, but a US inventory of Pakistan’s fighters found nothing missing, Foreign Policy reported on April 4, 2019, citing two senior US defense officials.
Tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals hit levels not seen in decades in February 2019 after militants based in Pakistan killed 40 Indian paramilitary police in a suicide bombing in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
In response, India conducted airstrikes on what it said was a terrorist training camp in Pakistan, which is said to have retaliated by sending fighter jets into Indian airspace, forcing India to scramble its own fighters and igniting an aerial battle.
An Indian MiG-21 Bison.
Pakistan shot down and captured Indian Wing Cmdr. Abhinandan Varthaman, who the Indian air force said had scored a critical hit on a Pakistani F-16 before his MiG-21 Bison was taken out by an enemy missile.
The air raid already appeared to be an embarrassing failure. India claimed that it killed about 300 terrorists with a surprise strike that saw 2,000-pound bombs devastate the training center, but satellite imagery indicated India’s aim was off.
“It does appear there was a strike in the vicinity of the camp, but it looks like it largely missed,” Omar Lamrani, a military analyst at the geopolitical consulting firm Stratfor, told Business Insider in March 2019.
Now it looks as though India’s assertions that it shot down a Pakistani F-16 are also incorrect.
A senior US official told Foreign Policy’s Lara Seligman that Pakistan invited the US to inspect its F-16 inventory after the fight with India.
A Pakistan Air Force crew chief performs a post flight inspection on an F-16 Falcon.
The process took several weeks, but when it was completed, “all aircraft were present and accounted for,” the official said. Foreign Policy cited another senior US defense official as saying those findings were confirmed by the US.
“As details come out, it looks worse and worse for the Indians,” Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT, told Foreign Policy.
Pakistan has consistently argued that India’s claims about the battle are inaccurate. On April 5, 2019, Pakistan demanded that India come forward with the truth about what happened in February 2019.
“This is what Pakistan has been saying all along, the truth,” said Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, a Pakistani military representative, according to Al Jazeera, adding that “it’s time for India to come up” with the truth.
India’s air force has rejected the conclusions in the Foreign Policy article. Dinakar Peri, a defense correspondent for The Hindu, said it had argued that Indian forces confirmed sighting ejections in two places, separated by 8 to 10 kilometers, on that day. It said, according to Peri, that one was its MiG-21 Bison and the other was a Pakistani F-16, indicated by electronic signatures.
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