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May 27, 1999
'An unprovoked act of hostility'
Amberish K Diwanji at the defence ministry
India today admitted it had lost two aircraft, but denied Pakistan's claim that both were shot down.
"Only one aircraft was shot at, that too from the Pakistani side of the Line of Control in what can only be termed an unprovoked act of hostility," declared Air Vice Marshal S K Malik, assistant chief of air staff (operations).
The problem occurred when the first aircraft, a MiG-21, developed "technical difficulties" and began losing height. "The pilot ejected from the aircraft," said AVM Malik.
The second pilot, flying a MiG-27, then flew down to search for the pilot who had ejected. "This is normal flying routine and practice," the AVM pointed out.
"It was while the MiG-27 was seeking to locate the ejected pilot that that aircraft was hit by a Pakistan surface-to-air missile, which was fired from the Pakistani side of the LoC," he stated.
"It is very unlikely for the MiG-27 to have strayed into Pakistani territory and as per our information, he did not do so. We are a mature air force and observe our self-imposed restrictions. However, after he was shot down, he would have gone into a spin and then he might have strayed into Pakistani airspace," said AVM Malik.
The unstated fear and suspicion here is that during the search operation, the MiG-27 might have strayed into Pakistani air space inadvertently. "The MiG-27 was hit inside our airspace but close to the Line of Control," said AVM Malik.
The air vice marshal also said it was likely that the second pilot may have ejected into Pakistan territory. Though he refused to categorically say so, even the first pilot may have been pushed into Pakistan territory since he had ejected at a high altitude and winds in the mountain region are powerful.
"We are searching for both pilots and have no information on their whereabouts so far," he stated.
Pakistan Information Minister Mushahid Hussain told Rediff On The NeT this evening that one flight lieutenant had been killed, and one squadron leader had been captured. Hussain identified the pilots, in a telephone interview.
AVM Malik, however, said he had no information on the same. The air vice marshal reiterated that despite the recent setbacks, air operations would continue and that despite the Pakistani provocation, Indian operations would remain on the Indian side of the Line of Control.
"Our strategy remains unchanged. We will clean out the militants from the mountain heights," he declared.
He, however, added that in the changed scenario of Pakistan firing missiles from across the border, the Indian Air Force would take adequate security measures to ensure that no more planes are lost.
Army spokesman Brigadier Mohan Bhandari said Indian troops had almost recovered two heights in the Drass sector, and was close to recovering one more mountain peak in the Batalik sector.
He added that Pakistan had increased its artillery shelling since the air operations began two days ago, but insisted it would have no impact.
"We have now entered a new phase in our operations. We have managed to cut the lines of supply and sustenance to the militants. According to our information, the militants are running out of supplies and ammunition and will not be able to hold on for long," Brigadier Bhandari said.
The brigadier said the intelligence reports had indicated that the air strikes had claimed a large number of lives and that the morale of the militants was sapping. He added that as per their information, around 2,400 militants were in Pakistan, waiting to cross over.
Brigadier Bhandari reiterated that many of the militants are Pakistani army regular soldiers in disguise. "The entire operation has been well orchestrated and well planned by the Pakistani army," he said.
However, he again said that India would not seek out targets across the Line of Control in Pakistan and would confine its operations to its side of the border.
A MiG aircraft costs anywhere between Rs 300 million to Rs 400 million.
When asked if the escalation could lead to a war, both the army and air force officers refused to comment.
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