New Delhi: The five Mirage 2000 pilots, who had snuck deep into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) on the morning of 26 February and struck Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camps in Balakot with Spice 2000 bombs, have been awarded Vayu Sena medals.
Besides, Indian Air Force pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has got Vir Chakra — the third highest gallantry award in the military after the Param Vir Chakra and the Mahavir Chakra.
Top sources in the defence establishment told ThePrint the IAF has got a total of 13 awards, including eight gallantry awards, for the Balakot strike and for foiling an attempt by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) to hit back on 27 February.
The awardees include Squadron Leader Minty Aggarwal, a female officer, who steered the dog fight over the Nowshera sector and alerted the IAF pilots to the presence of Pakistan’s F-16s with AMRAAM missiles.
Sources said Wing Commander Amit Ranjan, Squadron Leaders R. Basoya, P.A. Bhujade, B.K.N. Reddy and Shashank Singh were awarded the Vayu Sena medals (gallantry) for their operation, which caught Pakistan by surprise.
Yudh Seva medal for Squadron Leader Minty Aggarwal
Sources said the aircraft went as deep as 15 km into PoK before dropping the Israeli bombs that struck the main training camp of JeM. This was the first time since the 1971 war that India carried out a strike beyond the PoK — Balakot is situated in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.
The PAF retaliated the next day and carried out a failed attempt to target Indian military installations.
Wing Commander Varthaman has been awarded the Vir Chakra for his role in thwarting the Pakistani offensive and for shooting down an F-16 fighter aircraft.
Squadron Leader Minty Aggarwal of Barnala-based Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS) has been awarded with a Yudh Seva medal for ensuring that PAF attempts were thwarted by effectively directing and vectoring the Indian fighter aircraft towards the enemy strike package.
Air Commodore S.K. Vidhate, Group Captains Y.S. Negi, Hemant Kumar and Hansel Sequeira also got the Yudh Seva medals. This medal is a war-time distinguished service award.
All these officers played a crucial role on 26-27 February.
Army gets 107 gallantry awards
The Army, too, had its share of gallantry awards with its personnel getting a total of 107 awards, including 15 (posthumous). There are five Mention-In-Dispatches too. Mention in Dispatches record the acts of valour in the service records of personnel.
Sapper Prakash Jhadav, who died fighting terrorists in an operation in Kulgam in November 2018, has been awarded with the Kirti Chakra.
Lance Naik Sandeep Singh, who was part of the 2016 surgical strike, has been awarded with Shaurya Chakra (posthumous). Belonging to the 4 Para, he was killed in a counter-infiltration operation on 22 September 2018 in Kupwara district’s Tangdhar sector along the LoC.