The Indian Air Force, Navy and Army held a joint press conference on Thursday to share the sequence of events on the aerial engagement that took place on Wednesday leading to the shooting down of a Pakistan Air Force (PAF) F-16 by an IAF MiG-21. An Indian MiG also went down and Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Abhinandan Varthaman was captured. However, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan later announced that Varthaman would be released on Friday in a "peace gesture".
The press conference was addressed by Major General SS Mahal, Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor and Navy Rear Admiral DS Gujral.
The Indian Army said that its weapons systems were on high alert and its mechanized forces were on standby in the wake of the Pakistan Air Force's (PAF) attempts to hit Indian military installations a day earlier. Major General S.S. Mahal told the media that on Wednesday PAF jets tried to target a Brigade Headquarters, a Battalion Headquarters and logistics installations in Jammu and Kashmir. But their designs were foiled because of the high level of preparedness by the Indian armed forces, he said at the tri-service press conference. He also said that India will continue to target the terror camps as long as Pakistan harbours terrorists.
Air Vice Marshal R.G.K. Kapoor refuted Pakistan's claims that it had not used F-16s on Wednesday and said that one F-16 was shot down by a MiG-21 Bison. Cover of AAMRAM missile fired from Pakistani F-16 aircraft, found near the LoC in India, was shown as an evidence during the presser.
The Indian Air Force said it is very happy that captured pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman is returning home but dismissed suggestions that it was a goodwill gesture, insisting it was in line with the Geneva Conventions. "We are very happy Abhinandan will be freed tomorrow and look forward to his return," Air Vice Marshal R G K Kapoor, assistant chief of Air Staff, told the news conference. Varthaman's MiG 21 was shot and he bailed out after bringing down two Pakistani F-16 fighters during a dogfight to repel a Pakistani attack on Wednesday morning, he said. He has been in Pakistan since then.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced in Parliament on Thursday that Varthaman would be released on Friday as a "peace gesture". Asked if the IAF sees it as a goodwill move, he said, "We see it as a gesture in consonance with the Geneva Conventions." Tensions between the two countries escalated after Indian fighters bombed terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed's biggest training camp near Balakot deep inside Pakistan early Tuesday. It came 12 days after the JeM claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a CRPF convoy in Kashmir, killing 40 soldiers.
Kapoor said it was up to the political leadership to decide when and how to release evidence of the Balakot strike's success. He was responding to a question that there was some scepticism about whether IAF fighters had hit the intended targets. Kapoor said there is credible information and evidence that "we hit the intended targets" and it was premature to assess the casualties and damage.
The Indian Navy Thursday said it is in a high state of readiness to deal with any Pak maritime misadventure amid rising tensions between the two neighbours. Pakistani Air Force on Wednesday carried out a retaliatory strike across the Line of Control(LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir and attempted to target military installations, a day after India's strike on the JeM facility in Balakot.
"The Navy is deployed in a high state of readiness and remains poised on surface, under sea and in air to deter, prevent and defeat any misadventure by Pakistan in maritime domain," a Defence spokesperson said in a statement.
"The Navy assures of a resolute, swift and strong response when needed. We stand as one with the Army and Air Force to ensure the safety and security of the nation and our citizens," he said.