vir chakra

A photo released by Pakistan's Inter-Services Public Relations on March 1 shows captured Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman standing at Wagah border crossing during a handover ceremony in eastern Pakistan's Lahore. (Xinhua/ISPR/IANS file photo)

NEW DELHI (IANS) — The five IAF pilots who bombed a Jaish-e-Mohammed camp in Pakistan were named for Vayu Sena medals and Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who shot down a Pakistani F-16 but was taken prisoner, was picked for Vir Chakra on the eve of India's Independence day.

Abhinandan, from the Indian Air Force, brought down the F-16 near the Line of Control during a dogfight in February, resulting in his capture and later release by Islamabad.

Along with Abhinandan, pilots of the five Mirage-2000 fighter jets who bombed the JeM terror launch pad in Balakot in Pakistan's Khyber-Pakhtunhkwa province were named for Vayu Sena medals.

The pre-dawn covert operation of February 26 was to avenge a suicide bombing in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama on Feb. 14 which killed 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel and which was claimed by the Pakistan-based JeM.

Abhinandan, with his trademark handlebar moustache, acquired cult status in India ever since he was captured by Pakistani forces after his own MiG-21 Bison was shot down by a missile.

Abhinandan strayed into Pakistani territory after shooting down the F-16. He was released by Pakistan around 60 hours later at the Wagah border.

The Vir Chakra is the third highest wartime military award in India.

President Ram Nath Kovind approved a total of 132 gallantry awards and other decorations to personnel from the armed and paramilitary forces and 8 Tatrakshak medals to Coast Guard personnel.

The Kirti Chakra, the third highest military honour awarded during peacetime, will be conferred posthumously to soldier Prakash Jadhav who died in a gunfight with terrorists in Kulgam district of Jammu and Kashmir in November 2018.

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