Britain sees no diplomatic solution on Falklands; Argentina military leaders say: 'We are prepared'
| Buenos Aires
''We are prepared. We are waiting.''
With those words Wednesday, Argentina's military commander on the Falkland Islands, Gen. Mario Benjamin Menendez, again challenged the British task force in the South Atlantic in effect to launch a landing.
Top Argentine military fully expect the British to land before the weekend.
They believe they know where the British will land, the sort of bombardment they can expect, and what sort of aerial and naval protection the British will provide for the landing forces.
''Instead of concentrating on one landing site,'' a top Argentine military intelligence official said, ''they will land at five spots.''
He refused to specify the five sites--but it was presumed in other military circles here that one would be Pebble Island, which Argentines call Isla de Borbon. British commandos landed on that island, north of West Falkland Island, May 15 to knock out an airstrip and ammunition dump.
One Argentine military source says some of the commandos who landed last weekend may have remained, but the main force returned to the British task force.
It is thought here that the British will concentrate on West Falkland, which the Argentines call Gran Malvina--a less inhabited island than East Falkland, which Argentines call Soldedad.
Britain has apparently ruled out a direct assault on the beaches of Port Stanley, the Falklands capital, according to sources in London. There is, however, strong expectation in Argentine military circles that the British will seek to take Port Stanley, where General Menendez has his headquarters.
Argentina's estimated 10,000 troops are scattered throughout the Falklands archipelago, but the heaviest concentration is on East Falkland. It is there that the Argentines expect the stiffest fighting if the British land.
These fresh Argentine intelligence estimates also take into account the problems to be faced by Argentine troops. There are three admitted difficulties:
* Although Argentina has built up sizable stockpiles of food, equipment, and ammunition for its troops on the islands, British sea attacks from units of the Royal Navy and bombing raids by Harrier jets and Vulcan bombers have done considerable damage this month. No supply ships have run the British blockade of the island since the Isla de los Estados got through soon after the blockade was imposed.
* Roads on the islands are few and far between - a total of 17 kilometers existed when the Argentines invaded April 2, although several times that number have been laid down since. Most provisioning has been done by air through the seven weeks of Argentine occupation of the islands to the outlying posts. But recent British raids, such as the May 15 attack at Pebble Island, destroyed a number of interisland transport planes.
* Argentina's well-equipped Air Force does not have the long-range capability , much less the steady aerial refueling needed, to maintain regular bombing and strafing runs from the mainland to the islands.
Moreover, many of the planes at Port Stanley and Port Darwin airfields have been destroyed in British raids, and the runways at both sites have been seriously damaged. The Argentines have to use mainland air bases, such as the key facility at Rio Gallegos, to reach the British fleet around the Falklands.
These are not insurmountable obstacles in Argentina's defense of its entrenched positions on the islands. But they will be problems for General Menendez.
Argentines, moreover, believe Britain's task force--and its commandos and landing forces--will have problems that at least partially offset Argentina's difficulties.
Chief among the British problems is the distance that separates the British fleet from its home bases, and even the 4,000 miles between the fleet and Ascension Island, which the British are using as a staging area.
But this problem is being partially offset this week with the arrival of the cruise liner Canberra, with 2,500 fresh British troops, and the addition of 20 Sea Harrier jets, which were brought out from Britain on container ships. The arrival of the Harriers augments the capability of the Royal Air Force-- and Argentine officials here in Buenos Aires said Wednesday that this evens up to some extent the aerial capacity of the two nations.
''We still maintain air superiority,'' an Argentine Air Force intelligence chief said late Wednesday, ''but the Harriers are effective craft, and their presence in the vicinity of the islands will clearly be an advantage to the British.''