Argentine troops tell why war lost
Buenos Aires — ''When we were issued jungle boots rather than winter boots,'' the young Falkland Islands veteran said, ''I knew we were in trouble.
''But there was more,'' he went on as he quietly talked of nine cold and bone-chilling weeks on the islands. ''I arrived April 12 and was given only a lightweight blanket for sleeping and there were nights later on when I shivered through the whole night.''
This Argentine soldier's simple complaint, expressed without evident bitterness Thursday, is being echoed through Argentina as Argentine veterans of the war with Britain over the Falklands stream home.
All during the 10-week Argentine occupation of the islands, there were unconfirmed reports of serious shortages - toilet paper, for one thing, was frequently mentioned. But as veterans return to the mainland, the extent of the shortages and the serious logistical failures of the Argentine Army in combat are becoming known to the Argentine public.
Food was in short supply, the veterans say. There were many days when it was not possible to build fires. Ammunition supplies in some places dwindled as the fighting intensified.
These complaints, particularly those regarding ammunition, are somewhat offset by British reports that sizable quantities of armaments were captured. Britain says it captured missiles, including three Exocets (the type of missile that disabled and eventually sank several British ships), jet aircraft including Pucara patrol craft, helicopters, several naval patrol vessels, and more than 100 vehicles.
The shortages were in smaller-gauge weaponry and ammunition - often due to local transport problems - and in necessities of daily life.
It is becoming apparent that the Argentine Army simply was unprepared for the decision to invade the Falklands. Staff officers, charged with provisioning the troops, were not told of the invasion until hours before it took place April 2. They complained about their difficulties early on, but this met deaf ears at Army headquarters in Buenos Aires.
''It was a foolhardy adventure,'' complained one angry Army source here. ''An army must fight anytime, anywhere, if it has to, but when it launches an operation it ought to be fully prepared. We were not.''
Some officers here tell of food rotting in Comodoro Rivadavia on the mainland coast and in other cities because there was no way to get the stuff to the islands.
The food shortages were serious, but it was lack of adequate clothing, bedding, and shelter that really affected the thousands of Argentine conscripts hastily sent to the islands.
The bitter cold and ''freezing rain'' that washes down on the Falklands in the winter bedeviled the whole operation. The weather, of course, could not be changed.
''But the lack of sleeping bags and tents,'' complained a young corporal in the regular Army, ''was our biggest problem. Without them as winter came in its full fury, it was rough for many of us.''
The number of frostbite cases among Argentine soldiers treated by British doctors attests to this problem.
As the stories of privation are told, a chorus of demands for explanation is being heard.
Typical is that of Vicente Massot, a columnist for La Nueva Provincia of Bahia Blanca, the city where Argentina's main naval base is located. He writes:
''The alleged shortage of equipment among the land forces in the Malvinas (the Argentine name for the Falklands) merits an investigation.''
In an extremely hard-hitting commentary this week, he adds: ''It is time to admit that we lost, to explain why we lost, to demand an explanation from those who, apparently, embarked on this war with total unconsciousness.''
The Massot column suggests also that the Argentine military failed totally to evaluate what Britain would do. ''Before going to war, the government ought to study what the enemy will do,'' he concludes.
The implication is that there was no such study.
This gets to the heart of much of the complaint: The Argentine military simply launched its invasion without adequate preparation, without adequately analyzing the possible consequences, without a knowledge of the enemy.