According to documents obtained by U.S. News, a top American diplomat sent a written reprimand to the chiefs of the Pakistani air force in August accusing them of misusing U.S.-supplied F-16 fighter jets and jeopardizing their shared security.
The communication came months after India claimed one such F-16 shot down one of its fighter jets during a days-long skirmish in February over the contested region of Kashmir, which would amount to a fundamental violation by Pakistan of the terms governing the sale of its U.S. fighter jets and a dangerous form of military escalation among nuclear powers.
Addressed to the head of the Pakistani air force, Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan, the letter began by relaying the State Department’s confirmation that Pakistan had moved the F-16s and accompanying American-made missiles to unapproved forward operating bases in defiance of its agreement with the U.S. Using diplomatic language, Thompson, who has since left government, warned the Pakistanis that their behavior risked allowing these weapons to fall into the hands of malign actors and “could undermine our shared security platforms and infrastructures.”
“While we understand from you that these aircraft movements were done in support of national defense objectives,” Thompson wrote in the letter, “the U.S. government considers the relocation of aircraft to non-U.S. government authorized bases concerning and inconsistent with the F-16 Letter of Offer and Acceptance.”
“Such actions could subject sensitive U.S.-technologies to diversion to or access by third parties, and could undermine our shared security platforms and infrastructures,” Thompson wrote.
A flare-up in military tensions between Pakistan and India began in mid-February after a Pakistani militant group claimed credit for a suicide bombing in Kashmir that killed 40 Indian security personnel. The subsequent tensions escalated as both countries deployed fighter jets, and in one dogfight an Indian plane was shot down. Its pilot landed in Pakistani territory and was imprisoned until his release in March. On Feb. 28, the Indian government presented evidence it says showed Pakistani jets fired AMRAAM missiles at the Indian planes.
The Pakistani armed forces possess 76 American-supplied F-16s – by far the most potent fighter jet in its military arsenal. Pakistan first began receiving the plane in 1982 and maintains them under strict rules imposed by the State Department, the Department of Defense and Congress.
Among the rules are that Islamabad may only house the fighters and the corresponding American missiles on two specific air force bases at Mushaf and Shahbaz and that it only uses them for counter-terror operations, not against foreign countries.
The agreement for their sale and subsequent operation, governed in part by the State Department’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, also stipulates that American contractors and mechanics must have access to the jets at any time of day or night both to help maintain them and to monitor how the Pakistani military employs them.