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We don’t count bodies: IAF

On Sunday, BJP president Amit Shah had claimed that 'more than 250 terrorists' were killed in the Balakot air strike

By Imran Ahmed Siddiqui in New Delhi
  • Published 5.03.19, 3:40 AM
  • Updated 5.03.19, 8:35 AM
  • 3 mins read
Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa at the news conference in Coimbatore on Monday. (PTI)

The Indian Air Force does not count human casualties and it is the government that will clarify the figures, Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa said on Monday.

The statement triggered calls for the government to clear the air on the human casualties from the February 26 air strikes in Balakot, whose impact in terms of destruction and lives lost remains unclear.

On Sunday, BJP president Amit Shah had said in Gujarat that “more than 250 terrorists” were killed in the strike.

On Monday, Dhanoa told a news conference in Coimbatore: “The IAF is not in a position to clarify the numbers of casualties — the government will clarify that. We do not count human casualties; we count what targets we have hit or not. We hit our target.”

He added: “We can’t count how many people have died: that depends on how many people were there.”

He clarified that the air force was not in a position to clarify how many people were inside the Balakot camp.

Speaking to The Telegraph, an army veteran questioned Shah’s claim. “Now that the air chief has said the air force doesn’t know the number of casualties, how does the BJP president know about it? He is neither the defence minister nor a member of the cabinet committee on security. It’s time the government came clean on the casualties,” he said.

“Who is giving these imaginary numbers to Shah? Are the intelligence agencies dishing out these numbers? But in what capacity, since they don’t report to him? The BJP president is milking the air strikes to gain political capital.”

Soon after the air chief spoke, some TV channels aired source-based reports that said the figure 300 was reached on the basis of 300 active mobile phones in the vicinity when the Balakot strike took place.

Dhanoa, asked about reports that suggested the air strikes missed the target, said: “Our report says otherwise.”

Pakistan has claimed the air strike caused no damage or human casualties except for destroying pines in a forest. Dhanoa said that in that case, Pakistan would not have needed to respond (as it did by getting its jets to drop bombs in Jammu on February 27).

“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 Telegraph

Asked about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement that “had we had the Rafale (jets), the results would have been different”, Dhanoa said: “Honourable Prime Minister has made the statement. I will not comment on that.”

Nor would he “comment on the ongoing operation because they are still ongoing”.

Asked why the MiG-21 Bison was used during the dogfight with Pakistani jets on February 27, he said every aircraft is used when an adversary attacks. He advised people not to mix up “two different things”. “One is a planned operation (where) you carry out the first strike (as on February 26)…. Was there any Bison in that? No, our best aircraft were in that,” he said.

“But when the adversary (carries out) a strike on you, every available aircraft goes (into battle)….. All aircraft are capable of fighting the enemy.”

He added: “The MiG-21 Bison is in our inventory, why not use it? (It) is a capable aircraft and has been upgraded. It has got a better weapons system, better radars, better air-to-air missiles.”

Dhanoa said Pakistan had used F-16 aircraft during its February 27 offensive — something Islamabad denies — saying India had found on its soil fragments of the AMRAAM missile, which only F-16s are equipped with among Pakistani aircraft.

“Obviously, I think they have lost an F-16 aircraft in that combat. So, obviously, they have been using that aircraft against us,” Dhanoa said.

He said the Rafale jets should come into India’s inventory by September.

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, captured by Pakistan on February 27 and released on March 1, will continue to fly fighter jets if he is medically fit, Dhanoa said.

“We don’t take chances with the medical fitness of a pilot. That’s why, post-ejection, he has undergone a medical check-up. Once he gets his medical fitness (certificate), he will get into a fighter cockpit.”

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