The Indian Air Force has approved the rank of Group Captain for Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who had downed an enemy jet during an aerial combat with Pakistan in February 2019 and was held captive for three days, say reports.
The rank has been approved and Abhinandan will get it once a laid down procedure is completed. Explaining the process, an official said, Abhinandan will be able to wear it once there is a vacancy for the position.
A group captain is equivalent to a colonel in the army.
Abhinandan Varthaman downed a Pakistani jet on February 27, 2019 when the neighbouring country launched retaliation against India for the Balakot airstrikes a day before. The airstrike was India’s response to the Pulwama attack in Kashmir which killed 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) men on February 14, 2019.
The strike by India’s warplanes on a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist training camp in Balakot and the Pakistani Air Force’s subsequent retaliation the next day triggered fears of a war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
The most visible face of the confrontation was Wing Commander Varthaman, whose capture by Pakistan after downing his MiG-21 Bison fighter, triggered the most serious military crisis between the two neighbours in decades.
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Before his jet was hit, Varthaman downed the F-16 fighter of Pakistan. Abhinandan’s response will be remembered also because it is considered the first-ever incident in which a MiG-21 shot down an F-16, the latter being a much more sophisticated fighter jet than the previous.
Wing Commander Varthaman was released on the night of March 1 by Pakistan. Later that year, he was conferred with the Vir Chakra, India’s third-highest war time gallantry medal.
(With inputs from agencies)