The US is dumping cold water on India’s claim it shot down a Pakistani F-16

  • The US inspected Pakistan’s fighter inventory after a February dogfight, in which India claimed that one of its MiG-21 Bison aircraft shot down a Pakistani F-16, and found nothing missing, Foreign Policy reported on Thursday.
  • The report followed others indicating that Indian pilots had missed their targets in the air raid in an embarrassing failure.
  • “As details come out, it looks worse and worse for the Indians,” an expert told Foreign Policy.

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, but a US inventory of Pakistan’s fighters found nothing missing, Foreign Policy reported on Thursday, citing two senior US defense officials.

Tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals hit levels not seen in decades in February 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.

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An Indian MiG-21 Bison.
source
Wikimedia Commons

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.

Read more: India mocked Pakistan over a surprise airstrike, but now it looks like an embarrassing failure

“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.

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.

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 Friday, Pakistan demanded that India come forward with the truth about what happened in February.

“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.