Amidst a raging controversy over the damage inflicted on the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terror camp in Balakot, IAF chief B.S. Dhanoa on Monday said his force does not count human casualties but the airstrike had hit the “target”.
“The Indian Air Force is not in a position to clarify the number of casualties. The government will clarify that. We don’t count human casualties. We do not count how many people were dead. We count what targets we have hit or not. We hit our target. The air force doesn’t calculate casualty numbers. The government does that,” he told the media here.
“The target has been clearly amplified by the Foreign Secretary in a statement. If we plan to hit the target, we hit the target. Otherwise why would he (Pakistan Prime Minister) have responded. If we dropped bombs in the jungles why would he respond,” Dhanoa said in his first public remarks on the February 26 air force operation as a consequence of the February 14 Pulwama attack in which 40 CRPF personnel were killed.
There has been a controversy over the number of people killed in the attack on the JeM camp in Balakot. While officially no figures have been given, BJP President Amit Shah claimed in Ahmedabad on Sunday that more than 250 terrorists were killed in that airstrike.
Union Minister S.S. Ahluwalia had said that the Balakot strike was to convey a message that India has the capacity to strike deep inside enemy lines and was not intended to inflict any human casualties.
Dhanoa said the bomb damage assessment was a different aspect and it was difficult for the IAF to confirm casualties. How many people were inside the targets cannot be said.
He also defended the use of the vintage MiG-21 Bison in the aerial engagement with a large package of intruding Pakistan Air Force (PAF) fighters on the Line of Control (LoC).
“One is a planned operation in which you plan and carry out. But when an 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 a capable aircraft, it has been upgraded, it has better radar, air-to air missiles and better weapons system,” he said.
Refusing to get drawn into Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s comment that the outcome would have been different had Rafale jets joined the service, Dhanoa said that after the upgradation, the Bison is 3.5 generation with a range of missiles and avionics.
He said it has all the systems like chaffs, flares and other features.
The IAF chief also said that the first Rafale should come to India by September.
Amidst various reports in the international media questioning the veracity of the Indian claim of shooting down a PAF F-16, Dhanoa said it is confirmed that the American jets were used.
On the question of the US objecting to Pakistan using F-16s in a combat role against India, the IAF chief said he was not aware what is the end-user agreement between Washington and Islamabad over F-16s.
“I don’t know about the end-user agreement between Pakistan and the US.”
He said India has got the evidence of F-16 fighter planes being used by Pakistan in its attack on India as a part of the AMRAAM missile was recovered from the Indian soil.
Talking about Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman getting back into his squadron, Dhanoa said it will depend on his medical condition and how fast he recovers to get back into a fighter cockpit.
“Abhinandan flying again depends on his medical fitness. If he is fit to fly a fighter plane then he will go back to the same unit.”
Elaborating on the IAF’s future inductions, he said final price negotiations for 83 LCAs will be finalised soon.
The IAF is awaiting LCA mk 1a and LCA mk 2, still on the drawing board, to replace Jaguars, Mig-29s, and Mirages leading to the fifth generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA).