The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad said on Mar. 3 that it is investigating if Pakistan had used the F-16 fighter to shoot down an Indian MiG-21, potentially violating Washington’s military sale agreements that limit how Pakistan can use the planes, as the stand-off between the nuclear-armed Asian neighbors appeared to be easing.
“We are aware of these reports and are seeking more information,” a U.S. Embassy spokesperson said. “We take all allegations of misuse of defense articles very seriously.”
Pakistan and India both carried out aerial bombing missions last week, including a clash on Feb. 27, 2019 that saw an Indian pilot shot down over the disputed region of Kashmir in an incident that alarmed global powers and sparked fears of a war.
As reported by Reuters, a Pakistan military spokesman on the same day denied Indian claims that Pakistan used F-16 jets.
Pakistan returned the captured Indian pilot on Friday in a high-profile handover Islamabad touted as a “peace gesture”, which appeared to significantly dial down tensions, but both sides remain on high alert.
At the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border between the two countries in the disputed Kashmir region, there was relative calm in the last hours, both armies said on Sunday. But Indian security forces said they were carrying out major anti-militancy operations on their side on Kashmir and had shot dead two militants.
While Pakistan has denied using F-16 jets during a dogfight that downed an Indian Mig-21 warplane over Kashmir on Feb. 27, it has not specified which planes it used, though it assembles Chinese-designed JF-17 fighter jets on its soil.
Pakistan has a long history of buying U.S. military hardware, especially in the years after 2001 when Islamabad was seen as a key partner in the U.S.-led War on Terror.
The country bought several batches of F-16 planes, built by Lockheed Martin, from Washington before relations soured and the United States cut off subsidized sales in 2016.
It is not clear what exactly these so-called “end-user agreements” restrict Pakistan from doing. “The U.S. Government does not comment on or confirm pending investigations of this nature,” the U.S. Embassy added.
On Thursday Indian officials displayed to reporters parts of an AIM-120 AMRAAM, an air-to-air missile that in the region can only be fired from Pakistan Air Force (PAF) F-16 fighter aircraft, alleging they were used to bomb its side of the disputed Kashmir border on Feb. 27.
A Pakistan military spokesman told reporters on Feb. 27 that Pakistani jets “locked” on Indian targets to demonstrate Pakistan’s capacity to strike back at India, but then chose to fire in an empty field where there would be no casualties.
Pakistan said its mission on Feb. 27 was in retaliation for India violating its airspace and sovereignty a day earlier, when Indian Mirage 2000 fighter jets bombed a forest area near the northern city of Balakot.
India said it struck at militant training camps, but Islamabad denied any such camps existed, as did some villagers in the area when Reuters visited.
The fresh anti-militancy drive was launched after a Kashmiri suicide bomber, a member of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist group, killed 40 Indian paramilitary police on Feb. 14.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force, Indian Air Force
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