Indian Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa on Monday exposed the false claims of Indian media and government officials regarding the number of deaths in the February 26 Balakot airstrike.
Indian media and government officials had claimed that 300 alleged terrorists were killed in the so-called airstrikes in Balakot. However, when the Indian air chief marshal was asked to give a figure regarding the number of alleged terrorists killed in the February 26 airstrike, he said the Indian Air Force (IAF) “cannot count how many people died”.
“We cannot count how many people have died. It depends on how many people were there,” Dhanoa said while addressing a press conference, adding, “IAF is not in a position to clarify how many people were inside. We do not count human casualties. We count what targets we have hit or not hit.”
Responding to a question on Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was arrested by Pakistan Army and released, the Indian air chief was asked if the IAF pilot will return to service, at which he replied that it all depends on Abhinandan’s medical fitness. “Once we get his medical fitness, he will get into a fighter’s cockpit.” He added.
The Indian air chief, in an attempt to justify IAF’s violation of LoC’s regulations, said that the IAF hit a target and not ‘drop bombs in the jungle’ otherwise “Pakistan’s prime minister would not have reacted adversely”.
Dhanoa’s remarks come amid a lack of clarity on the exact details of the strike. New Delhi’s claim of 300 casualties in the so-called air strikes in Balakot, Pakistan has been questioned not only worldwide but even by political leaders and analysts within India.
Indian warplanes intruded Pakistani airspace on February 26 and were forced to return owing to the timely response of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). In order to make their escape, fleeing Indian jets dropped their payload in a hilly forested area near the northern Pakistani town of Balakot, about 40 km (25 miles) from the Line of Control (LoC).
The Indian government was quick to take credit for a “successful attack” and put the death toll to over 300. Pakistani officials, as well as the locals, rejected the claims, inviting local and international media to visit the site of the so-called attack where around a dozen trees were the only ‘casualty’.