NEWDELHI (Reuters) – All of Pakistan’s F-16 combat jets are accounted for, U.S.-based Foreign Policy magazine said, citing a count by U.S. 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 over the disputed region of Kashmir a day after Indian jets crossed over into Pakistan to attack a suspected 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 two U.S. defence officials with direct knowledge of the matter said U.S. 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 United States 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 U.S. 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.
The success of Indian air strikes on a camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group in northwestern Pakistan has also been thrown into doubt after satellite images showed little sign of damage.
High-resolution satellite images reviewed by Reuters last month showed that a religious school run by Jaish appeared to be still standing days after India claimed its warplanes had hit the Islamist group’s training camp on the site and killed a large number of militants.
Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, heading into a tight election next week, is campaigning on a platform of tough national security, especially with regard to arch foe Pakistan. New Delhi blames Pakistan for stoking a 30-year revolt in Muslim-majority Kashmir but Islamabad denies any involvement.
Foreign Policy said Pakistan had invited U.S. 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 U.S. 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 United States for its view on whether the use of the F-16s by Pakistan was a violation of the end-user agreement.
(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Paul Tait)