On 27 February 2019, six surprise airstrikes were carried out by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) at multiple locations inside Indian-Administered Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), in an operation known as Operation Swift Retort. The airstrikes were conducted in retaliation of Indian airstrike in Balakot just a day before on 26 February.
On 14 February 2019, a suicide attack in Pulwama, India killed around 40 Indian security personnel. The attack, claimed by Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), triggered a standoff between the two nuclear-armed countries. On 26 February, Indian Air Force conducted an airstrike across Line of Control (LoC) in Balakot, Pakistan and allegedly killed a large number of JeM militants. The Indian airstrike in Pakistani territory, first time since war of 1971, further escalated the tensions and gave rise to skirmishes along LoC. Pakistani military said that the airstrike although did not cause any damage or casualties as India claims, but is the violation of LoC and will be responded with a "surprise". On 27 February, the Pakistan Air Force conducted six airstrikes across LoC in Jammu and Kashmir, aiming at Indian military installments but deliberately targeting open field to avoid damage and casualties, describing the operation as the display of its aggressive capability. Soon after the airstrikes were carried out, PAF jets were chased down by Indian Air Force (IAF) jets into Pakistan. Pakistani military said that it shot down of two Indian jets in dogfights, one of which, a MiG-21, crashed inside Pakistani territory. The pilot of Mig-21 Wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman was captured by Pakistan army. As the situation deteriorated, many countries including China, Russia and United States offered to mediate the crisis.
On 14 February 2019, a convoy of vehicles carrying security personnel on the Jammu Srinagar National Highway was attacked by a vehicle-borne suicide bomber at Lethpora in the Pulwama district, Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. The attack resulted in the deaths of 46 Central Reserve Police Force personnel and the attacker. The perpetrator of the attack was from Indian-administered Kashmir. India blamed Pakistan for the attack resulting in a standoff between two nuclear armed nations. On 26 February 2019, Indian Air Force conducted an airstrike inside Pakistani territory. India said it targeted alleged militant camps of Jaish-e-Mohammed and killed large number of militants. Pakistan condemned the violation of LoC and vowed to retaliate. In a press conference spokesperson of Pakistan Army Major General Asif Ghafoor said that Pakistan will respond to the airstrike and will surprise India.
He rejected India's claims of hitting militant camps and causing any damage or casualties. Ghafoor said that if it caused casualties there would have been blood and funeral prayers but not even a single brick or debris is present there. He further said that anyone can visit the site to verify the claims. The site is open for all ambassadors, defence attaches, United Nations Military Observers in Pakistan and even the civilians or the army representatives from India.
On 27 February 2019, Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Pakistan Air Force had conducted six airstrikes at non-military targets in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistani officials claim that their aircraft were able to lock onto the target with great accuracy but they were ordered to drop their bombs in open field in order to avoid any human loss or collateral damage. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan claim that the strikes were meant to send a message to India. Around 25 JF-17 had crossed Line of Control (LOC) to hit targets in Indian administered Kashmir. The locations were identified to be Nadian, Laam Jhangar, Kerri in Rajouri District and Hamirpur area of Bhimber Ghali in Poonch by Indian officials. Indian officials also rejected Pakistani officials claims and said that Pakistan Air Force (PAF) jets had targeted military positions. Indian army 25th division headquarters, ammunition and supply depot were target of Pakistan air force as per Indian officials claims. Senior Indian military officers were present in the surrounding buildings where the strike took place. Moreover, Pakistan Air Force jets had crossed from Nowshera into Indian-administered Kashmir. India also claimed that PAF jets were intercepted by unspecified number of IAF jets. IAF fleet was composed of MiG-21, Sukhoi Su-30MKI and Dassault Mirage 2000.
The announcement was followed by a tweet of Director general of the ISPR Maj Gen. Asif Ghafoor revealing that Pakistan Air Force (PAF) had shot down two Indian aircraft after they encroached on Pakistan's airspace. Wreckage one of the aircraft fell in Azad Kashmir while the other one fell in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. One of the aircraft which crashed in Azad Kashmir was identified to be Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 and it was flown by Wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman. He was captured by Pakistan military unit who were present in the premises. The villagers at the ground also claim that they saw two jets in flame. They claim that one of the jet fell in Azad Kashmir while the other one sped toward Indian-administered Kashmir. New York Times labelled Pakistan victorious in the dog fight that took place on 27 February 2019.
On the same day 1 Indian helicopter Mil Mi-17 crashed killing 6 Indian Air Force personnels and 1 civilians. Initially India claimed that the helicopter crashed because of technical failure. However, later investigation revealed that the helicopter was shot down by India's air defense system. The Israeli-manufactured missile was fired by India's air defense system in response to Pakistan Air Force jets who had crossed Line of Control (LOC). However, the missile instead had hit Mi-17 helicopter killing all the people on board. The incident has been characterized as friendly fire.
India's Ministry of External Affairs in a press conference confirmed that PAF violated LoC and entered Indian territory through Nowshera and Poonch sector shooting down one IAF jet and it's pilot going missing. India also claimed to have shot down PAF's F-16 Fighting Falcon in its territory. A claim which was denied by Pakistan saying no F-16 was used in the operation. Indian officials also rejected Pakistani claims of shooting down an Su-30MKI.
DG ISPR Asif Ghafoor later conducted a press conference stating: "Since today morning activity has been ongoing at LoC. This morning PAF engaged six targets across LoC from within Pakistani airspace". He also said that the strikes were carried out to just demonstrate Pakistan's aggressive capabilities.
Prime Minister Imran Khan addressed the nation saying that the sole purpose of our action was to convey that "if you can come into our country, we can do the same". Khan also offered India for peace talks.
According to Foreign Policy journalist Lara Seligman, U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the matter asserted that the US has recently completed a physical count of Pakistan’s F-16s and has found none missing. One US official also disagreed with India's claim that usage restrictions disallow Pakistan from employing F-16s in military encounters with India. However, the spokesman of the United States Department of Defense clarified that it was "not aware" of any such investigation that was conducted and stated "As a matter of policy, the Department does not publicly comment on details of government-to-government agreements on end-use monitoring of US-origin defence articles."