Trust Govt, forces: Defence Minister on Balakot’s ‘250-300’

Putting record straight on the casualty numbers after the Indian air strikes on a Jaish-e-Mohammed camp in Pakistan’s Balakot on February 26, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday said, “Trust the government, trust the Forces. No numbers will be given by the government.”
“Why Pakistan didn’t allow the media to access a terrorist training camp bombed by Indian warplanes if it were true that only trees had been hit”, the Defence Minister said at the India Today Security Summit.
Sitharaman said there was credible and specific intelligence about new trainers and fresh recruits brought in to the terror camp on February 24 to carry out fidayeen attacks. “So this wasn’t a random hit,” she said.
Asked about the revelations of the Balakot Tapes investigation, Nirmala Sitharaman said she could not comment on intelligence. But she said the camp had been there for a long time, and had been a training session on February 24.
She admitted the Indian military knew the identity of the Pakistani pilot whose F-16 fighter aircraft was shot down by Indian Air Force (IAF) MiG-21 Bison, piloted by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman.
“Yes. We know,” Sitharaman replied to a question without divulging any further information.
There were eyewitness accounts as well as electronic evidence for it, the Ministry of External Affairs had earlier said.
The MEA had also said evidence on the use of F-16 fighter jets by Pakistan is there in the form of parts of AMRAAM missile recovered from the site, which is carried only by F-16 aircraft of the Pakistan Air Force.
About the downed F16 of the Pakistani Air Force, the Defence Minister added that the neighbouring country remains in denial. “Living in denial has been Pakistan’s policy”, she said, adding that India has shown the evidence that its aircraft did hit the F-16.
“Pakistan never accepts when their soldiers are killed. The F-16 was knocked down by us. The pilot was beaten up by local villagers and probably later died in hospital,” she said explaining the sequence of events when Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman ejected from his fighter jet and landed in Pakistani territory after bringing down the Pakistan Air Force fighter jet.
Saying that Pakistan kept claiming that they were holding pilots’ captive, Sitharaman asked who the other pilot was?
When asked how was Wing Commander Abhinandan’s josh when he met the Defence Minister? Nirmala Sitharaman said it was very high.
Lauding the bravery of the IAF pilot, the minister said, “If you need a tonic for motivation, ensure that you meet Abhinandan”.
She confirmed that Wing Commander Abhinandan was tortured when he was held captive, but added that the IAF pilot showed “admirable courage and patience”.
Sitharaman added that Abhinandan hasn’t been negative for going through the mental torture. The defence minister was speaking at the Aaj Tak security summit in New Delhi here.

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