War

Argentina declassifies critical report on 1982 war

AP News
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Posted: Mar 23, 2012 6:29 PM
Argentina declassifies critical report on 1982 war

President Cristina Fernandez has finally declassified a scathing review of the mistakes made by Argentina's military junta in going to war with Britain in 1982 trying to recover the Falkland Islands.

The Rattenbach Report is so critical of Argentina's military leadership that the last dictator ordered it kept secret for 50 years.

By making it public Thursday night, Fernandez said she hopes to show Argentina "will always be on the side of peace." She also said very little of the report needed to remain classified _ just the names of an active Argentine intelligence agent and an islander who collaborated with Argentine forces.

Fernandez has sought to blame the 1976-1983 dictatorship and not the Argentine people for the failed war, while at the same time using non-military means in hopes of squeezing Britain into negotiating the islands' sovereignty. Argentines say Britain has illegally occupied what they call the Islas Malvinas since 1833.

A version of the report was leaked decades ago, and its conclusions are not a surprise: The junta planned for an easy occupation, gambling the U.S. would support them and Britain would simply let the islands fall into Argentine hands. Then Argentina's ill-equipped army had to scramble into a war footing after British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sent a task force 8,000 miles (13,000 kilometers) into the South Atlantic to take the islands back.

The report confirms Argentine soldiers were sent from the subtropics into winter conditions without proper clothing, food or weapons, and were treated as cannon fodder by their own officers _ pushed into battle without having had basic training in weaponry and combat.

"Troops weren't adapted or equipped to handle the weather or the living conditions," and yet they had to face "a highly equipped and trained enemy," the report concluded. "Military commanders encouraged the preconceived notion that there would be no armed conflict, and that the situation would be resolved diplomatically, which affected the morale of the forces and their readiness for combat."

The Argentine occupation began on April 2, 1982, and ended 74 days later with British troops crushing the ill-prepared Argentines, at the cost of more than 900 lives.

Why air the report now, just ahead of the 30th anniversary?

"There's a need to close a historical chapter, and raise the human rights aspect of the Argentine military," Argentine political analyst Vicente Palermo said Friday.

Also, he said, Fernandez is "trying to focus responsibility on the military and leave the Argentine people blameless."

"But you have to take into account that when you open this period to examination, you open up many more things, such as the support that the armed forces had from the Argentine people at the time," Palermo added.

Indeed, many Argentines answered the junta's call for mass rallies in favor of a military occupation, and gave family jewelry to the war effort.

Tensions have increased between Buenos Aires and London ahead of the 30th anniversary. Argentina says Britain has violated treaties and United Nations resolutions by militarizing the South Atlantic. It has sought to isolate Britain and the islands by barring trade, ships and planes from adjacent Argentine territory, and has gained diplomatic support across Latin America. On Friday, the foreign minister found more allies in Vietnam.

Argentina isn't firing military weapons today, but all this does add up to economic warfare, said Roger Edwards, chairman of the Falkland Islands government's legislative assembly.

"They cannot deny that they are putting the islands under massive economic pressure, from trying to take the oil companies here to international courts, on what charge I have no idea, to threatening U.K. businesses in Argentina. I cannot possibly see how they can say they are not putting us under an economic blockade," Edwards said.

Other islanders weren't buying the idea that the military junta was entirely to blame for the war.

"I think it's the Argentine people, no matter what government they're under. For years and years and generations, they have considered the Falklands to be theirs, and you're not going to shift them," said John Smith, who documented the Argentine occupation in a book, "74 Days."

Retired Col. Augusto Rattenbach, whose father, Gen. Benjamin Rattenbach, co-authored the report, said releasing it is important for moral as well as historical reasons.

War, he said, "is not the right way to solve these problems _ diplomacy is."

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Associated Press writers Almudena Calatrava and Debora Rey contributed to this report.