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Island War: How to Explore and Loot the Mysterious Islands of the World

The Falklands War (Spanish: Guerra de las Malvinas) was a ten-week undeclared war between Argentina and the United Kingdom in 1982 over two British dependent territories in the South Atlantic: the Falkland Islands and its territorial dependency, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The conflict began on 2 April, when Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands, followed by the invasion of South Georgia the next day. On 5 April, the British government dispatched a naval task force to engage the Argentine Navy and Air Force before making an amphibious assault on the islands. The conflict lasted 74 days and ended with an Argentine surrender on 14 June, returning the islands to British control. In total, 649 Argentine military personnel, 255 British military personnel, and three Falkland Islanders were killed during the hostilities.

The conflict was a major episode in the protracted dispute over the territories' sovereignty. Argentina asserted (and maintains) that the islands are Argentine territory,[4] and the Argentine government thus characterised its military action as the reclamation of its own territory. The British government regarded the action as an invasion of a territory that had been a Crown colony since 1841. Falkland Islanders, who have inhabited the islands since the early 19th century, are predominantly descendants of British settlers, and strongly favour British sovereignty. Neither state officially declared war, although both governments declared the islands a war zone.

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Diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and Argentina were restored in 1989 following a meeting in Madrid, at which the two governments issued a joint statement.[6] No change in either country's position regarding the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands was made explicit. In 1994, Argentina adopted a new constitution,[7] which declared the Falkland Islands as part of one of its provinces by law.[8] However, the islands continue to operate as a self-governing British Overseas Territory.[9]

In 1965, the United Nations called upon Argentina and the United Kingdom to reach a settlement of the sovereignty dispute. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) regarded the islands as a nuisance and barrier to UK trade in South America. Therefore, while confident of British sovereignty, the FCO was prepared to cede the islands to Argentina. When news of a proposed transfer broke in 1968, elements sympathetic with the plight of the islanders were able to organise an effective parliamentary lobby to frustrate the FCO plans. Negotiations continued, but in general failed to make meaningful progress; the islanders steadfastly refused to consider Argentine sovereignty on one side, whilst Argentina would not compromise over sovereignty on the other.[10] The FCO then sought to make the islands dependent on Argentina, hoping this would make the islanders more amenable to Argentine sovereignty. A Communications Agreement signed in 1971 created an airlink and later YPF, the Argentine oil company, was given a monopoly in the islands.

In 1980, a new UK Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Nicholas Ridley, went to the Falklands trying to sell the islanders the benefits of a leaseback scheme, which met with strong opposition from the islanders. On his return to London in December 1980, he reported to parliament but was viciously attacked at what was seen as a sellout. (It was unlikely that leaseback could have succeeded since the British had sought a long-term lease of 99 years, whereas Argentina was pressing for a much shorter period of only ten years.) At a private committee meeting that evening, it was reported that Ridley said: "If we don't do something, they will invade. And there is nothing we could do."[13]

In December 1981, there was a further change in the Argentine military regime, bringing to office a new junta headed by General Leopoldo Galtieri (acting president), Air Brigadier Basilio Lami Dozo and Admiral Jorge Anaya. Anaya was the main architect and supporter of a military solution for the long-standing claim over the islands,[19] expecting that the United Kingdom would never respond militarily.[20]

By opting for military action, the Galtieri government hoped to mobilise the long-standing patriotic feelings of Argentines towards the islands, diverting public attention from the chronic economic problems and the ongoing human rights violations of its Dirty War,[21] bolstering the junta's dwindling legitimacy. The newspaper La Prensa speculated on a step-by-step plan beginning with cutting off supplies to the islands, ending in direct actions late in 1982, if the UN talks were fruitless.[22]

The ongoing tension between the two countries over the islands increased on 19 March, when a group of Argentine scrap metal merchants (which had been infiltrated by Argentine Marines)[23] raised the Argentine flag at South Georgia Island, an act that would later be seen as the first offensive action in the war. The Royal Navy ice patrol vessel HMS Endurance was dispatched from Stanley to South Georgia on the 25th in response. The Argentine military junta, suspecting that the UK would reinforce its South Atlantic Forces, ordered the invasion of the Falkland Islands to be brought forward to 2 April.

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The UK was initially taken by surprise by the Argentine attack on the South Atlantic islands, despite repeated warnings by Royal Navy captain Nicholas Barker (Commanding Officer of the Endurance) and others. Barker believed that Defence Secretary John Nott's 1981 Defence White Paper (in which Nott described plans to withdraw the Endurance, the UK's only naval presence in the South Atlantic) had sent a signal to the Argentines that the UK was unwilling, and would soon be unable, to defend its territories and subjects in the Falklands.[24][25]

The following day, during a crisis meeting headed by the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Sir Henry Leach, advised them that "Britain could and should send a task force if the islands are invaded". On 1 April, Leach sent orders to a Royal Navy force carrying out exercises in the Mediterranean to prepare to sail south. Following the invasion on 2 April, after an emergency meeting of the cabinet, approval was given to form a task force to retake the islands. This was backed in an emergency sitting of the House of Commons the next day.[35]

Word of the invasion first reached the UK from Argentine sources.[36] A Ministry of Defence operative in London had a short telex conversation with Governor Hunt's telex operator, who confirmed that Argentines were on the island and in control.[36][37] Later that day, BBC journalist Laurie Margolis spoke with an islander at Goose Green via amateur radio, who confirmed the presence of a large Argentine fleet and that Argentine forces had taken control of the island.[36] British military operations in the Falklands War were given the codename Operation Corporate, and the commander of the task force was Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse. Operations lasted from 1 April 1982 to 20 June 1982.[38]

The Argentine Army unit earmarked for the occupation was the 25th Infantry Regiment, a unit of about 681 men specially trained from all the regions of Argentina; it was flown into Stanley Airport as soon as the runway had been cleared.[46] Once it became clear that the British were sending an amphibious task force, there was a general recall of reservists and two brigades of eight infantry regiments and their supporting units were dispatched to the islands. The total Argentine garrison numbered some 13,000 troops by the beginning of May. The conscripts born in 1963 had only recently been called-up, so they were supplemented by the recall of the previous year's intake. Brigadier General Mario Benjamín Menéndez was appointed Military Governor of the Malvinas.[47]

Argentine military police arrived with detailed files on many islanders,[48] allowing intelligence officer Major Patricio Dowling to arrest and interrogate islanders who he suspected might lead opposition to the occupation.[48] Initially, Islanders suspected of holding anti-Argentine views were expelled,[48] including the Luxton family[48] (who had lived in the islands since the 1840s) and David Colville,[49] editor of the Falklands Times. This proved to be counter-productive, as those expelled gave interviews to the press. Subsequently, fourteen other community leaders, including the senior medical officer, were interned at Fox Bay on West Falkland.[50] Concerned by Dowling's actions, senior Argentine officers had him removed from the islands.[48] For almost a month, the civilian population of Goose Green was detained in the village hall in "unpleasant conditions".[51]Less well known are similar detentions in other outlying settlements, in one case leading to the death of an islander denied access to his medication. In the closing moments of the war, some troops began to place booby traps in civilian homes,[52] defiled homes with excrement,[53] destroyed civilian property and committed arson against civilian properties.[54]

On 8 April, Alexander Haig, the United States Secretary of State, arrived in London on a shuttle diplomacy mission from President Ronald Reagan to broker a peace deal based on an interim authority taking control of the islands pending negotiations. After hearing from Thatcher that the task force would not be withdrawn unless the Argentines evacuated their troops, Haig headed for Buenos Aires.[60] There he met the junta and Nicanor Costa Méndez, the foreign minister. Haig was treated coolly and told that Argentine sovereignty must be a pre-condition of any talks. Returning to London on 11 April, he found the British cabinet in no mood for compromise. Haig flew back to Washington before returning to Buenos Aires for a final protracted round of talks. These made little progress, but just as Haig and his mission were leaving, they were told that Galtieri would meet them at the airport VIP lounge to make an important concession; however, this was cancelled at the last minute. On 30 April, the Reagan administration announced that they would be publicly supporting the United Kingdom.[61]


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