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Air war over Kashmir as India-Pakistan tensions rise

Photo: An IAF Mirage 2000 taxis at Gwalior Air Force Station. USAF/Tech Sgt Keith Brown

 

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has conducted air strikes over the ceasefire line in disputed Kashmir and claims to have shot down two Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft that entered Pakistani airspace. According to authorities in Islamabad, two IAF pilots were captured.

Pakistan’s armed forces spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said one IAF pilot was being interrogated and the second was injured and being treated in hospital. So far, the Indian government has confirmed that one of its pilots has been posted missing in action.

The aerial attacks across the Line of Control (LoC) dividing Indian and Pakistani territory are the first since the two countries went to war in 1971.

An unverified video that appeared on social media showed a blindfolded Indian pilot – apparently wearing a Russian-type flight suit – being interrogated. The airman has been reported as Wg Cdr Abhinandan Varthaman, a MiG-21 Bison pilot.

Additional unconfirmed photos showed wreckage apparently from an IAF MiG-21 fighter, reported elsewhere as being serial CU2328:

The identity of the other IAF aircraft reportedly downed by Pakistan – and the fate of its pilot – remains unconfirmed. Initial Pakistani reports indicated that a second pilot was in hospital, but it later emerged that only one IAF aviator was accounted for. Amid the confusion, it remains possible that two fighters in total were downed – one each from the IAF and PAF.

In a separate incident an IAF Mi-17V-5 helicopter came down in the Budgam district of Jammu and Kashmir in India. The Hip had been flying a routine mission from Srinagar airfield when it came down at around 1010hrs local time. All six on board the helicopter were killed.

Meanwhile, Indian media reported on Wednesday that a PAF F-16 fighter was also shot down on Pakistan’s side of the ceasefire line in Kashmir. Both India and Pakistan claim all of Kashmir, but control only parts of it. According to a spokesman from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, the PAF targeted installations on the Indian side of Kashmir and one PAF aircraft was shot down, the wreckage coming down in Pakistani territory. Unofficial sources claim that a MiG-21 Bison was responsible for downing one of three F-16s flying in the area (which some sources identity – apparently erroneously – as JF-17s).

In response to the escalation, Pakistan suspended all commercial flights in its airspace.

The skirmishes come a day after India flew air strikes in Pakistan. On that occasion, it appears that IAF Mirage 2000s hit a reported militant target, a training camp at Jaish-e-Muhammad in Balakot, using 1,000kg Israeli-made SPICE 1000 precision-guided standoff munitions.

The Indian air raids were launched in response to a militant attack in Kashmir that killed 40 Indian troops – the deadliest to take place during a three-decade insurgency against Indian rule in Kashmir. A Pakistan-based group claimed responsibility for the attack.

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