And last night Gen Julian Thompson, who led British land forces during the Falklands conflict, suggested Argentina could strike in the event of a Labour government because, «It’s unlikely Jeremy Corbyn would use military force to defend the islands».
Operation Maipu, staged in August, was the South American country’s largest military exercise for decades, involving troops, helicopters, armoured mortar carriers and self-propelled howitzers.
It held night-time helicopter landings at the large Magdalena training area near Buenos Aires, in three areas meant to represent parts of the Falkland Islands.
Having established a bridgehead, armoured and mechanised infantry units pushed inland with air cover provided by other helicopters.
While never declaring the purpose of the «exercises», its true intentions were revealed after an army officer shared the information with a military attache in a neighbouring country — thought to be Brazil — who then passed the intelligence to Britain.
The Argentine plan is to invade three outlying islands simultaneously with a view to divert UK defences, create an international incident and «gain global leverage for negotiations» over ownership of the islands and sharing the huge oil reserves.
It’s estimated the North Falkland Basin could have as much as 1.7 billion barrels of oil in place.
A Whitehall source said last night: «We are aware of what happened thanks to information supplied by a nearby friendly country.» Britain does have a developed plan to address «unwanted Argentine attention», he added, and «three islands makes things more complicated, but certainly not insurmountable».
Last night Gen Thompson, who commanded 3 Commando Brigade during the Falkland conflict, warned that Argentina may enact the plan in the event that Jeremy Corbyn comes to power. «Argentina has a three-year window before our new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, is fully operational.
And a Corbyn government, which is not out of the question, may well give them the opportu-nity to strike with plans like these. «It is highly unlikely that Corbyn would sanction military action to hold the islands, and Argentina knows this.»
Britain has beefed up its military presence in the area since 2015, when it placed four Typhoon fighter jets, an off shore patrol ship and a force of more than 1,000 troops on permanent standby.
Meanwhile, Argentina has invested in modernising its army.
Generally, relations with Argentina have improved and last night sources added that it is unlikely that the country’s president Mauricio Macri, currently in his own battle to persuade the IMF to release $50billion in emergency funds, was informed of the true nature of the exercise.
However, the islands are still part of the country’s constitution, which states: «The recovery of these territories and the full exercise of sovereignty, respecting the way of life for its inhabitants and according to the principles of international law, constitute a permanent and unwavering goal of the Argentine people.»
In 2016 foreign office minister Sir Alan Duncan became the first FCO minister since 2009 to visit Buenos Aires, signalling a new thawing in relations between both countries.
However, he avoided any mention of the Falklands or territorial claims during his visit.
Last night South Atlantic geopolitical expert Dr Alasdair Pinkerton of Royal Holloway, University of London, observed: «Military campaigns work in different ways. «Arguably, we are not talking about a full-on military invasion, but rather a media storm to draw attention to what they consider to be their rightful claim.»
EQUIPMENT USED IN EXERCISE MAIPU
TAM medium tanks
TAM VCA 155mm self-propelled howitzers
M106 mortar carriers / 120mm mortars
105mm mountain guns
Three US-built Bell Huey helicopters
Fuel supply trucks for helicopters
LARC amphibious troop vehicles