New Delhi: Balakot airstrike hero, Group Captain Abhinandan Varthaman was honoured with Vir Chakra by President Ram Nath Kovind in the national capital on Monday for bringing down a Pakistani F-16 fighter aircraft during aerial combat on February 27, 2019.
Varthaman was promoted from Wing Commander to the rank of Group Captain earlier this month.
“His actions raised the morale of the armed forces in general and the IAF in particular. Wing Commander Varthaman Abhinandan showed conspicuous courage, demonstrated gallantry in the face of the enemy while disregarding personal safety and displayed an exceptional sense of duty,” the citation said.
He was honoured with Vir Chakra, India’s third-highest war time gallantry medal, by the President in an investiture ceremony.
Varthaman was captured by the Pakistani Army on February 27, 2019 after his MiG-21 Bison jet was shot down in a dogfight with the Pakistani jets. Before his jet was hit, he downed a Pakistani F-16 fighter.
The Balakot airstrike was carried out against the militant camps at Balakot of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in response to the deadly Pulwama attack that claimed the lives of 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel.
It was the first aerial assault carried out by India in Pakistan after the 1971 India-Pakistan war.
On February 26, 2019 around 3.30am. 12 Mirage 2000 fighter jets crossed the Line of Control (LoC) and destroyed the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror camp in Pakistan’s Balakot.
Codenamed as ‘Operation Bandar’, the airstrike was conducted by the seventh and ninth squadrons of the Indian Air Force.
After the strike, over two dozen fighter planes, including F-16s left Pakistani bases aiming to hit the Indian military installations. But the Indian Air force in anticipation of such an attack was ready and aerial dogfight ensued. It ended with Wing Commander Varthaman, shooting down an F-16 fighter plane of Pakistan and getting hit in the process.
Varthaman exited safely but was captured. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan had announced the capture and India demanded his unconditional and safe return.
Back then, the US played a role in the release of the officer, who safely returned to India.