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On 27 February 2019, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) conducted six surprise airstrikes at multiple locations in Indian-Administered Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).[8][9] The airstrikes were part of PAF military operation codename Operation Swift Retort and were conducted in retaliation of Indian Air Force (IAF) airstrike in Balakot just a day before on 26 February.[10][11]

2019 Jammu and Kashmir airstrikes
Part of Indo-Pakistani wars and conflicts and 2019 India–Pakistan standoff
Pakistan Air Force JF-17 Thunder flies in front of the 26,660 ft high Nanga Parbat.jpg
A Pakistan Air Force JF-17 Thunder
Date27 February 2019; 6 months ago (2019-02-27)
Location
33°23′N 74°18′E / 33.38°N 74.3°E / 33.38; 74.3Coordinates: 33°23′N 74°18′E / 33.38°N 74.3°E / 33.38; 74.3
Belligerents

 Pakistan

 India

Commanders and leaders

Pakistan Arif Alvi
(President)
Pakistan Imran Khan
(Prime Minister)
Pakistan Qamar Javed Bajwa
(Chief of Army Staff)

Pakistan Mujahid Anwar Khan
(Chief of Air Staff)

India Ram Nath Kovind
(President)
India Narendra Modi
(Prime Minister)
India Bipin Rawat
(Chief of Army Staff)

India Birender Singh Dhanoa
(Chief of Air Staff)
Strength
25 JF-17 Thunder jets[1][2]

Unknown number of MiG-21, Su-30MKI and Mirage 2000 jets[3]

Air defense system on ground
Casualties and losses
Pakistan claim
None
India claim
1 F-16 jet shot down
Pakistan claim
1 MiG-21 shot down, pilot (Abhinandan Varthaman) captured and 1 Su-30MKI shot down[3]
India claim
1 MiG-21 shot down, pilot (Abhinandan Varthaman) captured
Friendly fire
1 Mil Mi-17 shot down, 6 Indian Air Force personnel and 1 civilian killed[4][5][6][7]
2019 Jammu and Kashmir airstrikes is located in Jammu and Kashmir
2019 Jammu and Kashmir airstrikes
Map of Rajouri where one of the airstrike was carried out
2019 Jammu and Kashmir airstrikes is located in India
2019 Jammu and Kashmir airstrikes
2019 Jammu and Kashmir airstrikes (India)

There were no casualties on Pakistan's side nor major material loss by the Indian alleged air strike.[12] Thus, Pakistani military chose not to target military or civilian areas in India during Swift Retort as rightly claimed by Indian authorities that there were no casualties during the air strike by Pakistan on the Indian side.

It was a first time since 1971 that both countries airforce had crossed Line of Control (LoC) to conduct airstrikes on the opposing territories. India conducted airstrike in Balakot on 26 February while Pakistan responded by conducting airstrike in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. Following Pakistan's airstrikes, Indian Air Force (IAF) jets started pursuing Pakistan Air Force (PAF) jets. In the resulting dog fight, Pakistani officials claimed to have shot down two Indian jets and captured one Indian pilot. Indian officials initially rejected that any of IAF jet was shot down.[13] However, later on Indian officials acknowledged that one IAF jet was shot down. Indian officials also claim to have shot one down PAF jet. Pakistan rejected Indian claims and said that PAF did not suffer any losses in the dog fight. Pakistani officials claimed that "in this day and age, it is impossible to hide downing of aircraft".[14] One IAF Mil Mi-17 helicopter was also lost as result of friendly fire, killing everyone aboard.

Background

On 14 February 2019, a convoy of vehicles carrying security personnel on the Jammu Srinagar National Highway was attacked by a vehicle-borne suicide bomber at Lethpora in the Pulwama district, Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. The attack resulted in the deaths of 46 Central Reserve Police Force personnel and the attacker. The perpetrator of the attack was from Indian-administered Kashmir.[15] India blamed Pakistan for the attack resulting in a standoff between two nuclear armed nations. On 26 February 2019, Indian Air Force conducted an airstrike inside Pakistani territory. India said it targeted alleged militant camps of Jaish-e-Mohammed and killed large number of militants. Pakistan condemned the violation of LoC and vowed to retaliate. In a press conference spokesperson of Pakistan Army Major General Asif Ghafoor said that Pakistan will respond to the airstrike and will surprise India.

“It is your turn now to wait and get ready for our surprise.”

— Asif Ghafoor, spokesperson of Pakistan Army in a press conference[16]

He rejected India's claims of hitting militant camps and causing any damage or casualties. Ghafoor said that if it caused casualties there would have been blood and funeral prayers but not even a single brick or debris is present there. He further said that anyone can visit the site to verify the claims. The site is open for all ambassadors, defence attaches, United Nations Military Observers in Pakistan and even the civilians or the army representatives from India.[17]

Airstrikes

On 27 February 2019, Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Pakistan Air Force had conducted six airstrikes at non-military targets in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistani officials claim that their aircraft were able to lock onto the target with great accuracy but they were ordered to drop their bombs in open field in order to avoid any human loss or collateral damage.[18] Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan claim that the strikes were meant to send a message to India.[19] Around 25 JF-17 had crossed Line of Control (LOC) to hit targets in Indian administered Kashmir.[1] The locations were identified to be Nadian, Laam Jhangar, Kerri in Rajouri District and Hamirpur area of Bhimber Ghali in Poonch by Indian officials.[20] Indian officials, however, denied that the target of Pakistani airstrike were non-military targets. Indian officials claimed that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) jets had deliberately targeted military positions like Indian army 25th division headquarters, ammunition and supply depot.[21][22] Pakistan Air Force (PAF) jets were reported to have crossed from Nowshera into Indian-administered Kashmir. Later on, PAF jets were intercepted by unspecified number of IAF jets. IAF fleet was composed of MiG-21, Sukhoi Su-30MKI and Dassault Mirage 2000.[3]

The announcement was followed by a tweet of Director general of the ISPR Maj Gen. Asif Ghafoor revealing that Pakistan Air Force (PAF) had shot down two Indian aircraft after they encroached on Pakistan's airspace.[23][18] Wreckage one of the aircraft fell in Azad Kashmir while the other one fell in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. One of the aircraft which crashed in Azad Kashmir was identified to be Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 and it was flown by Wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman. He was captured by Pakistan military unit who were present in the premises.[24] The villagers at the ground also claim that they saw two jets in flame. They claim that one of the jet fell in Azad Kashmir while the other one sped toward Indian-administered Kashmir.[24] The other IAF military aircraft, which was shot down by PAF, was identified to be Sukhoi Su-30MKI according to Pakistani officials. However, Indian officials rejected Pakistani claims of losing any Su-30 MKI jets.[3]

Indian officials initially denied that any of Indian Air Force (IAF) jet was shot down. They also claimed that all IAF pilots were accounted for[13] and denied that any IAF pilot was captured by Pakistani security forces.[25] Later on, Indian officials acknowledged that one IAF Mig-21 was shot down and its pilot was in the custody of Pakistan security forces.[26] Indian officials also claimed to have shot down one F-16. However, Pakistani officials rejected India's claim. Pakistani officials claimed that "in today's day and age, it is impossible to hide downing of a aircraft".[14][27]

Friendly fire

On the same day 1 Indian helicopter Mil Mi-17 crashed killing 6 Indian Air Force personnels and 1 civilians in Budgam district. Initially India claimed that the helicopter crashed because of technical failure.[28] However, after six months of investigation, Indian officials revealed that the helicopter was shot down by Indian owned Israeli-manufactured SPYDER air defense system. The Israeli-manufactured SPYDER air defense system fired a missile in response to Pakistan Air Force jets who had crossed Line of Control (LOC). However, the missile instead had hit Mi-17 helicopter killing all the people on board and a civilian on the ground. After the investigation, five IAF personnel were held guilty in the case.[4][5][29][30][6] The families of IAF personnel (who were on board the helicopter) allege that the government officials tried to hide the facts from them. They allege that the matter of friendly fire was hushed up to avoid embarrassment for current government during the election season. They also allege that some members of Indian Air Force (IAF), who were colleagues of the IAF personnel on board the helicopter, had also hinted that a friendly fire had brought down the helicopter but they told the family members of the victims to remain silent.[7]

Aftermath

Indian reaction

India's Ministry of External Affairs in a press conference confirmed that PAF violated LoC and entered Indian territory through Nowshera and Poonch sector shooting down one IAF jet and its pilot going missing.[31] India also claimed to have shot down one PAF F-16 Fighting Falcon.[32] A claim which was denied by Pakistan saying no F-16 was used in the operation.[28] Indian officials also rejected Pakistani claims of shooting down an Su-30MKI.[3]

On 28 February, Indian officials again alleged that two Pakistan Air Force (PAF) jets have violated Indian airspace. According to the Indian officials, the PAF jets were intercepted over Poonch and Krishna Gati sector. However, no aerial combat took place and PAF jets returned to their airspace.[33]

Pakistan

DG ISPR Asif Ghafoor later conducted a press conference stating: "Since today morning activity has been ongoing at LoC. This morning PAF engaged six targets across LoC from within Pakistani airspace". He also said that the strikes were carried out to just demonstrate Pakistan's aggressive capabilities.[34]

Prime Minister Imran Khan addressed the nation saying that the sole purpose of our action was to convey that "if you can come into our country, we can do the same". Khan also offered India for peace talks.[35]

United States

According to Foreign Policy journalist Lara Seligman, U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the matter asserted that the US has recently completed a physical count of Pakistan’s F-16s and has found none missing. One US official also disagreed with India's claim that usage restrictions disallow Pakistan from employing F-16s in military encounters with India.[36] Indian newspaper, Hindustan Times, reported that United States Department of Defense spokesman claimed that he was "not aware" of any such investigation that was conducted and stated "As a matter of policy, the Department does not publicly comment on details of government-to-government agreements on end-use monitoring of US-origin defence articles."[37] However, Washington Post reported that like Pentagon, the State Department has yet to issue any public statement on F-16 count. So there has been no counter-leaks contradicting Foreign Policy report.[38]

New York Times labelled Pakistan victorious in the dog fight that took place on 27 February 2019.[39]

See also

References

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