In first public remarks on the February 26 air strike by the IAF on a Jaish-e-Mohammad terror camp in Balakot in Pakistan, Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa Monday said the “Air Force is not in a position to clarify how many people were inside (the target). We don’t count human casualties. We count what targets have been hit, or not hit”.
He said it is for the government to provide details on the number of terrorists killed.
The IAF chief, who interacted with the press at the Sulur air base near Coimbatore, made these remarks a day after BJP chief Amit Shah said “more than 250 terrorists were killed without (IAF) suffering any losses” at Balakot.
On Saturday, a report in The Indian Express quoted top government sources saying IAF hit the four buildings it targeted, but limitations of technical intelligence and lack of ground intelligence at this point make any assessment of terrorists killed in the attack “purely speculative”.
Responding to a query on the number of terrorists killed, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said: “That statement will be made by the government… The bomb damage assessment that is done post mission calculates the number of targets that you have been able to hit, or not been able to hit. We can’t count how many people have died. That depends on how many people were there.”
Asked about reports suggesting that the bombs were dropped away from the target, he said, “Our report says otherwise.”
On the target itself, he said: “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. If we had dropped bombs in the jungle, there would have been no need for him to respond,” he said.
Defending the use of the MiG-21 Bison — one such aircraft being flown by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was shot down during an air duel with the Pakistan Air Force a day after Balakot — the IAF chief said: “People ask why are you using the (MiG-21) Bison? There are different things. One is a planned operation in which you plan and carry out, like the first operation. The question I will ask: was there any Bison in that? No. Our best aircraft were there in that. But when the adversary does a strike on you, every available aircraft goes in, irrespective of which aircraft it is. All aircraft are capable of fighting the enemy.”
“The MiG-21 Bison is in our inventory, why not use it?… I will not comment on the ongoing operation because they are still ongoing. MiG-21 Bison is capable. It has been upgraded… It has got a better weapons system, better radars, better air-to-air missiles, radar warning receivers… whatever it takes to make it from third generation to 3.5 generation (aircraft) or so. It’s an upgraded aircraft. We fight with all the aircraft in our inventory,” he said.
On the likelihood of Wing Commander Abhinandan — he was captured by Pakistan on February 27 and released on March 1 — returning to combat aircraft duty, he said: “Whether he flies again or not depends on his medical fitness. That is why post ejection, he has undergone a medical check. Thereafter, whatever treatment is required, will be given to him. Once he gets his medical fitness, then only he will get into a fighter cockpit.”
On Pakistan’s use of F-16 aircraft in its raid on India, 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 a F-16 aircraft in that combat. So, obviously, they have been using that aircraft against us,” he said.
While he declined comment on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement that Rafale jets would have made a difference in the February 27 dogfight, the IAF chief said: “Rafale should come into our inventory in the month of September.”
“Yes, we have a plan for inducting new aircraft. That’s why we have signed a contract for 36 Rafales, 40 LCAs… We have to get about one-and-half squadrons of Sukhois from HAL… we have to sign a contract for 83 LCAs, and thereafter after LCA Mk1 A has been delivered, we will go to Mk2… six squadrons of Mk2 are required which will ultimately replace the Jaguar, MiG-29 and Mirage 2000 aircraft… There is a plan on how we take out the old aircraft and get in new aircraft,” he said.