Defence Secretary rejects claims Britain is unable to defend Falklands

 

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond today rejected claims Britain would be unable to defend the Falklands against a fresh Argentinian assault as both countries mark the 30-year anniversary of the conflict in the South Atlantic.

Click HERE to view 'Falklands War: A look back in 50 photographs' gallery

Speaking as Britain's new Joint Forces Command comes into effect, Mr Hammond said Britain would "robustly" defend the islands against any attack and insisted "we have the assets, the people, the equipment in place to do so".

Admiral Sir John Woodward, who led the taskforce to recover the islands in 1982, earlier told The Times while Britain is without an aircraft carrier it would not be able to repeat the successful mission of 30 years ago.

Meanwhile, Argentinian president Cristina Fernandez will use the landmark date to make a major speech and lead hundreds of rallies across Argentina as she renews calls for Britain to cede sovereignty over the islands.

Mr Hammond said: "We are very clear that our position in relation to the Falklands is that we will be robust in defence of the Falkland Islands, but we do not intend to repeat the mistake of 1982 and allow the Falklands to be taken from us.

"We will defend them robustly, we have the assets, the people, the equipment in place to do so.

"Despite the rhetoric of the media, there is no evidence at all of any military intention by Argentina nor any military capability by Argentina to attempt to retake the Falkland Islands."

He continued: "I have said very clearly, we are not going to lose the Falklands.

"We have the assets in position on the Falklands which we didn't back in the early 1980s that will enable us to see off any acts of aggression.

"I emphasise again, there is not the slightest intelligence to suggest that there is any credible military threat to the Falklands."

HMS Dauntless is due to sail from Portsmouth to the Falklands tomorrow - a day before the 30th anniversary of the British task force sailing to war in the South Atlantic.

The destroyer, the second of the Royal Navy's new Type 45 air defence destroyers, is said by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to be a routine mission to take over the patrols of Plymouth-based frigate HMS Montrose.

The Argentine government has threatened legal action against British and American banks involved in advising UK companies exploring for oil in the Falklands.

But Downing Street said today the move was not in Argentina's "own interests".

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We don't think it is in their interests or our interests.

"We are a big investor in that country. We think they are acting against their interests if people are attacking shops and branches of banks in Argentina."

Amid the commemorations, the naval officer responsible for co-ordinating the torpedo attack which sank the General Belgrano, creating a turning point in the Falklands War, said today that he had no regrets.

Vice admiral Sir Tim McClement was second-in-command of the submarine HMS Conqueror which fired the torpedoes at the Argentinian warship, causing the loss of 323 lives.

At the time, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was heavily criticised for the move as the ship was outside an exclusion zone and was heading away from the Falklands.

Speaking to the Portsmouth News, Sir Tim said: "There is no doubt in my mind that sinking the Belgrano was absolutely the right thing to do - firstly for survival in case the pincer movement worked against our carriers and secondly it demonstrated intent to the Argentinians."

Earlier, David Cameron issued a statement to mark the anniversary of the conflict.

He said: "Thirty years ago today the people of the Falkland Islands suffered an act of aggression that sought to rob them of their freedom and their way of life.

"Today is a day for commemoration and reflection: a day to remember all those who lost their lives in the conflict - the members of our Armed Forces, as well as the Argentinian personnel who died.

"Today, we salute the heroism of the Task Force which set sail to free the islands.

"We are rightly proud of the role Britain played in righting a profound wrong. And the people of the Falkland Islands can be justly proud of the prosperous and secure future they have built for their islands since 1982.

"Britain remains staunchly committed to upholding the right of the Falkland Islanders, and of the Falkland Islanders alone, to determine their own future.

"That was the fundamental principle that was at stake 30 years ago: and that is the principle which we solemnly re-affirm today."

Further reading:

Falklands War: A look back in 50 photographs
Shots across the bows: The images that defined the Falklands War
'It gets worse as you get older': Falklands survivors reveal how they deal with the memories

PA

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