ALL of Pakistan’s F-16 combat jets are accounted for, the US based Foreign Policy magazine said, citing a count by the US officials, contradicting an Indian Air Force assessment that it had shot down one of the jets in February.
India and Pakistan engaged in an aerial battle a day after Indian jets crossed over into Pakistan to attack a camp of anti-India militants.
An Indian jet was brought down during the fight and its pilot captured when he ejected on the Pakistani side of the border.
India said it, too, had shot down a Pakistani aircraft and the air force displayed pieces of a missile that it said had been fired by a Pakistani F-16 before it went down.
However, Foreign Policy said in a report published on Thursday (4) two US defence officials with direct knowledge of the matter said the US personnel had done a count of Pakistan’s F-16s and found none missing.
The F-16s are made by Lockheed Martin and, under an end-user agreement, the US required the host country to allow for regular inspections to ensure they were accounted for and protected, Foreign Policy said.
Details of the India-Pakistan air engagement have not been provided by either side.
If the US report turns out to be true, it would be a further blow to prime minister Narendra Modi’s claim that India had taught Pakistan a lesson.
Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), heading into a tight election next week, is campaigning on a platform of tough national security, especially with regard to Pakistan.
Foreign Policy said Pakistan had invited the US officials to physically count the F-16 planes after the incident. Some of the aircraft were not immediately available for inspection due to the conflict, so it took the US personnel several weeks to account for all of the jets, one of the officials said.
The count had now been completed and all aircraft “were present and accounted for”, the official said.
India has separately asked the US for its view on whether the use of the F-16s by Pakistan was a violation of the end-user agreement.