Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who downed a Pakistan jet during an aerial combat in February 2019 and was held captive for three days, has been promoted to the rank of Group Captain. "He had cleared his board and now he has been promoted. All who had cleared the board have been promoted," said a government official. Wing Commander Varthaman is a Vir Chakra, India's third-highest war time gallantry medal, awardee.
He was captured by the Pakistani Army on February 27, 2019 after his MiG-21 Bison jet was shot down in a dogfight with Pakistani jets. Before his jet was hit, he downed a Pakistani F-16 fighter. The 'Balakot Air Strike' was carried out at terror camps at Balakot of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in response to the deadly Pulwama attack that claimed the lives of 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel. It was the first aerial assault carried out by India in Pakistan after the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war.
On February 26, 2019, at around 3.30 a.m., 12 Mirage 2000 fighter jets crossed the Line of Control (LoC) and destroyed the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror camp in Pakistan's Balakot.
The Balakot airstrike demonstrated India's prowess to retaliate to Pakistan's sinister intentions. Codenamed as 'Operation Bandar', the air strike was conducted by the seventh and ninth squadrons of the Indian Air Force.
After the strike, over two dozen fighter planes, including F-16s left Pakistani bases aiming to hit Indian military installations. But the Indian Air Force in anticipation of such an attack was ready and aerial dogfight ensued. It ended with Wing Commander Varthaman, shooting down an F-16 fighter plane of Pakistan and getting hit in the process.
Wing Commander Varthaman exited safely but was captured. Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan announced the capture. India demanded the unconditional and safe return of him.
Back then, the US played a role in the release of the officer. He safely returned to India.