NEW DELHI: The Indian Air Force Thursday said it is very happy that captured pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman is returning home but dismissed suggestions that it was a goodwill gesture from Pakistan, insisting it was in line with the Geneva Conventions.
"We are very happy Abhinandan will be freed tomorrow and look forward to his return," Air Vice Marshal R G K Kapoor, assistant chief of Air Staff, said.
He was speaking at a first joint media briefing along with the Navy and Indian Army officials after Pakistani fighter jets targeted Indian military installations in an air raid on Wednesday.
Varthaman's MiG 21 was shot and he bailed out after bringing down one Pakistani F-16 fighter during a dogfight to repel a Pakistani attack on Wednesday morning, he said.
He has been in Pakistan since then.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced in Parliament on Thursday that Varthaman would be released on Friday as a "peace gesture".
Asked if the IAF sees it as a goodwill move, he said IAF sees it as a gesture in consonance with the Geneva Conventions.
"As far as IAF is concerned, we are happy that our pilot, who had fallen across the Line of Control and was in the custody of Pakistan, is being released. We are extremely happy to have him back. We only see it as a gesture which is in consonance with Geneva conventions," Air Vice Marshal Kapoor said.
The Army and the Navy officials said the armed forces are on high alert and ready to meet any security challenge on land and sea.
Tensions between the two countries escalated after Indian fighters bombed terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed's biggest training camp near Balakot deep inside Pakistan early Tuesday.
It came 12 days after the JeM claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a CRPF convoy in Kashmir, killing 40 soldiers.
Asked about India's assessment about damage caused to the JeM terrorist training camp inside Pakistan during India's air strike on Tuesday, the Air Vice Marshal said, "There is fairly credible evidence with us which proves that there was damage to the camps."
"The weapons hit the intended target and they caused damage that was intended. However, it will be premature to say that what was the number of casualties we have been able to inflict on those camps and the number of those killed," he said.
There were reports that around 350 terrorists were killed in the strike on the JeM camp at Balakot in Pakistan.
The IAF official said it was for the higher leadership of the government to decide how and when to present the evidence of damage to the camp or whether to present them or not.
On Wednesday's operation by Pakistani Air Force, he said the Pakistani jets attempted to target military installations but IAF aircraft thwarted their plans.
"The PAF bombs have fallen in Indian Army formation compounds. They were unable to cause any damage to our military installations," he said.
He said in the aerial combat, one F-16 of Pakistan Air Force was shot down by an IAF MiG-21 Bison.
The F-16 crashed and fell across the LOC in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
The IAF official also rejected Pakistan's contention that F-16s were not used in the operation and no Pakistani plane was downed by IAF.
"There is enough evidence to show that F-16s were used in this mission and Pakistan is trying to hide this fact. Also, parts of AMRAAM Air to Air Missile which is carried only on the F-16s in PAF were recovered East of Rajouri within the Indian territory," he said.
The IAF also showed a piece of the AMRAM missile at the news briefing.
"The fact remains that one F-16 of PAF was shot down by an IAF MiG-21 Bison aircraft," said the Air Vice Marshal.
He said Pakistani aircraft package which was part of the Wednesday's operation comprised F-16s and JF 17s and perhaps some Mirages and that India countered them with Mig 21 Bisons, Mirage 2000s and Sukhoi 30s.
Sources said Pakistan deployed around 24 aircraft out of which three came inside Indian airspace.
He said there have been many factually incorrect statements made by Pakistan after the retaliatory strike Wednesday including its initial claim that two IAF aircraft were shot down by Pakistan and three pilots were downed.
"This figure was later revised to two IAF aircraft and two pilots. The fact, however, is that Indian Army units had reported sighting two parachutes falling in the PoK which were of two F-16 pilots shot down by the IAF MiG-21 Bison."
"Pakistan later in the evening changed its statement to say that one Indian pilot was in their custody," he said.
He also rejected Pakistan's claims that they intentionally dropped weapons in open space where there was no human presence or military posts.