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IAF doesn’t count casualties, govt will make statement on Balakot toll: Air Force Chief

IAF chief BS Dhanoa on Monday declined to comment on the death toll in the Balakot strike, saying it was for the government to provide details on the number of terrorists killed and the Air Force only sees if a target has been hit or not.

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was captured by Pakistan on February 27 and released on March 1, would fly a fighter jet if he was fit, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said.

“We don’t take chances with the medical fitness of a pilot,” he said at a press conference in his first comments since the February 26 attack on a Jaish-e-Mohammed camp in Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Paktunkhwa province.

The Air Force, he said, is not in a position to clarify many people were inside.

“We don’t count human casualties. We count what targets we have hit or not hit,” he said.

The bomb damage assessment that is done post a mission only calculates the target that has been hit or not hit, the air 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 a 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.

In response to a question regarding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement that Rafale jets would have a made a difference, he said, “Honourable Prime Minister has made the statement. I will not comment on that.”

When an adversary attacks you, every aircraft is used, Dhanoa said, adding that the MiG 21 jet used in the dog fight with Pakistan is an upgraded aircraft with advanced weapons system.

“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… whatever it takes to make it from third generation to 3.5 generation (aircraft) or so,” Dhanoa told reporters.

Though he could not comment on the politics, he was happy Abhinandan was home, 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, we have given to him. Once he gets his medical fitness, then only he will get into a fighter cockpit,” Dhanoa said.

The Air Force, Dhanoa said, has to get its act together and find out what caused the mid-air clash ahead of the opening of the Bengaluru air show on February 19 and helicopter crash in Kashmir last week.

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