Balakot Airstrike Hero Abhinandan Varthaman Awarded Prestigious Vir Chakra
File photo of IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa with Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who flew a sortie in a MiG-21 trainer at the Air Force Station in Pathankot, Punjab, on Sept. 2, 2019. (ANI Photo)
NEW DELHI – Balakot airstrike hero Group Captain Abhinandan Varthaman was honored with the Vir Chakra by President Ram Nath Kovind in the capital Nov. 22 for bringing down a Pakistani F-16 fighter aircraft during aerial combat on Feb. 27, 2019.
Varthaman was promoted from Wing Commander to the rank of Group Captain earlier this month.
He was honored with the 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 Feb. 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 terror 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 personnel.
It was the first aerial assault carried out by India in Pakistan after the 1971 India-Pakistan war.
On Feb. 26, 2019 around 3:30 a.m., 12 Mirage 2000 fighter jets crossed the Line of Control and destroyed the Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camp in Pakistan’s Balakot.
The Balakot airstrike demonstrated India’s prowess to retaliate to Pakistan’s sinister intentions.
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 an 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 U.S. played a role in the release of the officer, who safely returned to India.