Operativo Independencia - Later Stages

Later Stages

Efforts to restrict the rural guerrilla activity to Tucumán, however, remained unsuccessful despite the use of 24 recently supplied ex-US Army troop-transport helicopters. In early October the 5th Brigade suffered a major blow again at the hands of Montoneros, when over one-hundred or perhaps several hundred guerrillas and supporting civilians carried out the most elaborate guerrilla operation of the so-called "Dirty War". Its code name inside Montoneros was Operación Primicia ("Operation Scoop"). The action involved the hijacking of a civilian airliner, bound for Corrientes from Buenos Aires. The guerrillas redirected the plane towards Formosa Province, where they took over the provincial airport. Joined by a local supporting unit, they broke into the 29th Infantry Regiment's barracks, firing automatic weapons and throwing hand grenades. They met fierce resistance from a group of conscripts and NCOs who reacted after the initial surprise. In the aftermath, 12 soldiers and two policemenwere killed and several injured; the attacking Montoneros lost 16 men.

Once the operation was over, Montoneros made good their escape by air towards a remote area in Santa Fe province. The aircraft, a Boeing 737, eventually landed on a crop field not far from the city of Rafaela. The sophistication of the operation, and the getaway cars and safehouses they used to escape from the crash-landing site, suggest several hundred guerrillas and their supporters were involved. In December 1975 most 5th Brigade units were committed to the border areas of Tucumán with over 5.000 troops deployed in the province. There was, however, nothing to prevent 30 of Santucho's most experienced jungle fighters infiltrating through this outer ring and the ERP were still strong inside Buenos Aires. Santucho's Christmas offensive began on 23 December 1975. The operation was a dramatic showdown, with ERP units, supported by local Montoneros support units, mounting a large scale assault against the army supply base Domingo Viejobueno in the industrial suburb of Monte Chingolo, south of Buenos Aires. The ERP guerrillas had planned to seize some 20 tons of armaments: 900 FAL rifles with 60.000 magazines of 7.62mm rounds, 100 M-16 assault rifles with 100.000 magazines of 5.56mm rounds, six 20mm Rheinmetall anti-aircraft guns, fifteen 105mm Czekalski anti-tank rifles, Itaka shotguns and 150 submachineguns.However, the attackers were defeated and driven off with heavy casualties. In this particular battle the ERP and Montoneros guerrillas had about 1.000 guerrillas and supporting civilians in the form of militantsdeployed against 1,000 government forces. This large-scale operation was made possible not only by the audacity of the guerrillas involved, but also by their supporters who provided them with houses to hide in, supplies, and means to escape. A soldier who took part in the fighting recalled that many of the guerrillas were very young, some only teenage girls. On 30 December 1975 supporting urban guerrillas detonated a bomb inside the headquarters of the Argentine Army in Buenos Aires, wounding six conscripts.

During their 1975 stint in Tucumán the Fifth Mountain Brigade killed 160 guerrillas at a cost of 22 officers and 21 other ranks killed.This figure does take into account local bodyguards, policemen, and Gendarmerie troops killed in Tucumán, nor the soldiers who died defending their barracks in Formosa Province on 5 October 1975.

Tucumán kept the 5th Mountain Infantry Brigade and 4th Airborne Infantry Brigade busy through 1976, and the mountain and parachute units remained essential as military support for the local police and gendarmerie security forces, and for the apprehension of several hundred ERP and Montoneros guerrillas who still remained operating in the jungles and mountains and sympathizers hidden among the civilian population. The "Baltimore Sun" reported at the time, "In the jungle-covered mountains of Tucuman, long known as "Argentina's garden," Argentines are fighting Argentines in a Vietnam-style civil war. So far, the outcome is in doubt. But there is no doubt about the seriousness of the combat, which involves 2.000 or so leftist guerrillas and perhaps as many as 10.000 soldiers."During February 1976, in an effort to rekindle the guerrilla campaign in Tucumán, the Montoneros sent in reinforcements in the form of a company of their elite "Jungle Troops". The leader of this Montoneros force, was initially commanded by Juan Carlos Alsogaray (El Hippie), son of General Julio Alsogaray, who had served as head of the Argentine Army from 1966 to 1968. The ERP also sent reinforecment to Tucumán in the form of their elite "Decididos de Córdoba" Company from Córdoba.General Bussi achieved a major success on 13 February 1976 when the 14th Airborne Infantry Regiment killed El Hippie and ambushed his elite Montoneros company. Corporal Héctor Roberto Lazarte and Private Pedro Burguener were killed in this action but the guerrillas suffered severe losses. On 10 April 1976 Private Mario Gutiérrez was killed in a guerrilla ambush in Tucumán. In mid-April 1976 the 4th Airborne Infantry Brigade in a major operation conducted against the ERP underground network in the province of Córdoba, took into custody and forcefully disappeared some 300 militants of that organization.On 26 April 1976, Montoneros guerrillas killed Colonel Abel Héctor Elías Cavagnaro outside his home in Tucumán province. On 5 May 1976, during an armed reconnaissance mission, an army UH-1H helicopter crashed on the banks of Río Caspichango killing Captain José Antonio Ramallo, Lieutenant César Gonzalo Ledesma, Sergeant Walter Hugo Gómez and Corporals Carlos Alberto Parra and Ricardo Zárate. On 7 May in a gunfight near the river, Corporal Ricardo Martín Zárate was killed in a guerrilla ambush. On 10 May, Private Carlos Alberto Fricker was accidentally shot dead by nervous sentries while stationed in Famaillá. On 17 May Sergeant Alberto Eduardo Lai and Private Juan Ángel Toledo were killed in a remote controlled bomb blast near the town of Caspinchango. During 1976 there were 24 patrol battles resulting in the deaths of 74 guerrillas and 18 soldiers and police in the province of Tucumán.

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