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IAF Chief: we hit targets, don’t count casualties

COIMBATORE: Sidestepping a raging debate on the number of casualties in the Balakot strike, Indian Air Force (IAF) chief B S Dhanoa on Monday said it is for the government to provide details on the terrorists killed and the Air Force only sees if a target has been hit or not. 

The Air Force does not count human casualties, Dhanoa said as the figure of how many terrorists were killed in the February 26 attack on a Jaish-e-Mohammed camp in Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province remained unclear.

“We don’t count human casualties. We count what targets we have hit or not hit,” Dhanoa said in his first comments since the events of last week, when escalating India-Pakistan tensions led to aerial combat and Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman being in captivity in Pakistan for almost three days.

The Air Force chief told reporters the Indian Air Force pilot would fly a fighter jet if he was fit. “We don’t take chances with the medical fitness of a pilot,” he said at a press conference.

Varthaman, who ejected from his MiG 21 Bison on February 27, was captured by Pakistan and released on March 1.

Discussing the Balakot strike, Dhanoa said the Air Force is not in a position to clarify how many people were inside. The bomb damage assessment that is done post a mission only calculates the target that has been hit or not hit, the Air Force chief noted.

“We can’t count how many people have died. That depends on how many people were there,” Dhanoa said, adding that a statement on the number of terrorists killed will be made by the government.

Asked about reports suggesting that the bombs were dropped away from the target, he said, “Our report says otherwise.”

Referring to Pakistan using F-16 aircraft in its offensive against India last week, Dhanoa said, “I don’t know what is the end-user agreement between America and Pakistan. If the end-user agreement was that they will not use it for offensive purposes, then I think they have violated that end-user agreement.”

India, he said, has pieces of the AMRAAM missile which it displayed. “Obviously, I think they have lost an F-16 aircraft in that combat. So, obviously, they have been using that aircraft against us,” he added. According to him, had the Indian Air Force dropped bombs in a jungle at Balakot there would have been no need for Pakistan to respond. “The target has been clearly amplified by the foreign secretary in his statement. And, of course, if we plan to hit the target, we hit the target. Otherwise, why would he (Pakistan) have responded,” he said.

The Rafale jet should come into India’s inventory by September, the Air Force chief said. “Yes, we have a plan for inducting new aircraft and that is why we have signed contract for 36 Rafale jets.” Eventually, Jaguar, MiG29, and Mirage 2000 aircraft will be replaced by Tejas Mk-2 and then the “next step” will be on Advanced Medium Combat Aircrafts, he said.

Dhanoa declined to comment on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement that Rafale jets would have a made a difference. When an adversary attacks you, every aircraft is used, Dhanoa said, adding that the MiG 21 jet used in the dogfight with Pakistan is an upgraded aircraft with advanced weapons system.

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