Argentine victory claims -- and doubts
Buenos Aires — ''The armed forces control the situation in the Malvinas,'' boasted a banner headline in a Sunday paper here, reflecting official claims that Argentina had won the first round of war on the Falkland Islands.
But Argentina appears to be keeping a diplomatic door open and is increasingly insistent on the need for a cease-fire. This suggests to some independent observers that the claimed ''victory'' was inconclusive, if not ambiguous.
According to official news agency reports in Buenos Aires, Argentine troops were moving in to ''finish off'' British infantry near San Carlos. Argentina's version of events is that in the initial fighting May 21, some 700 British troops were scattered across a narrow bridgehead and were pounded by big guns and mortars.
The Argentine reports said British vessels meanwhile had withdrawn from a nearby bay after suffering considerable damage at the hands of the Argentine Air Force. Argentina claims that eight warships were knocked out (two sunk and the rest severely damaged) and that two helicopters and three Sea Harriers were shot down. (Britain concedes it lost the frigate Ardent and two helicopters, but says the four other damaged ships have been repaired and only one Harrier was lost.)
The junta admitted to having lost six planes and three helicopters during an Air Force attack involving 72 Argentine planes - three squadrons of Sky Hawks and three squadrons of French Mirages and Israeli-built Daggers.
The Argentine claims of success were made May 22 by President Leopoldo Galtieri who, while admitting that the British had managed to gain a foothold, said that the loss of lives and materiel on the British side had been ''enormous.''
Some military sources in Buenos Aires privately express concern at the costs in men and equipment. The overriding military mood still appears to be that of dogged resistance to any surrender.
For the moment, the propaganda machine appears to have succeeded in insulating public opinion from any suggestion that the war might not be going quite Buenos Aires' way. The Army says that, far from dampening nationalist fervor, British tactics painted as those of a ''cynical and bloody aggressor'' have raised feelings to a new pitch, and that the population is now mentally prepared for a ''heroic war.''
''As from Friday the Argentine people realize that war is not a soccer championship. There are no goals; only death and destruction,'' wrote a commentator in Sunday's Clarin.
Argentine Navy sources here have been quoted in the local press as denying that British were fanning out. They claimed instead that the British were trapped without adequate air cover and with broken supply lines.
''I don't think they will last very long. We are thrashing them,'' said one Argentine colonel. But military sources here did admit that any counterattack against the British bridgehead would ''take some time.''
One report claimed that Argentine troops were advancing toward San Carlos very slowly -- covering about half a mile per hour. The report suggests that there may be difficulty in transporting Argentine ground troops by helicopter or providing sufficient air cover. Britain claims to have shot down many more helicopters and Argentine fighter planes than the numbers admitted by Argentina.
Observers also note that the junta has not explained why the Argentine Air Force, after Friday's fighting, chose to hold back from any further attacks. It has been suggested here that this may reflect Air Force hesitance after the loss of many planes, and that there might be a split within the military over the extent of any further commitment.
The English-language Buenos Aires Herald quoted military sources as saying that no air attacks had been carried out against British troops May 22 because of low cloud cover but that if weather conditions improve, high-altitude bombing attacks would resume.
Argentina's diplomatic offensive is being presented in Buenos Aires as simultaneous with, and not as a substitution for, any further military exercise. President Galtieri has even adopted a generally dovish tone.
''Argentina continues to have a generous spirit for attempting to negotiate through diplomatic channels and has not abandoned it for a moment,'' General Galtieri said.
Argentine diplomacy appears to still be centered on the United Nations. The latest Peruvian peace plan, accepted in principle by President Galtieri, essentially calls for an immediate cease-fire and the continued mediation of UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar.