Afghanistan: Italy denies report it bribed Taliban forces
A Times of London story charges that Italy paid Taliban not to attack Italian forces, and that its lack of disclosure of the practice had catastrophic consequences for French replacements.
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The Italian government has angrily denied a Times of London report that says that the Italian intelligence service bribed the Taliban in Afghanistan not to attack Italian forces operating there. The report also says that Italy's failure to disclose the alleged bribes to the French forces that later replaced the Italian troops led to France making a "catastrophically incorrect threat assessment," something that resulted in the death of 10 French soldiers last year.
The Times report, which was published Wednesday, says that "in the months before the French soldiers arrived in mid-2008, the Italian secret service had been paying tens of thousands of dollars to Taleban commanders and local warlords to keep the area quiet."
US intelligence officials were flabbergasted when they found out through intercepted telephone conversations that the Italians had also been buying off militants, notably in Herat province in the far west. In June 2008, several weeks before the ambush, the US Ambassador in Rome made a démarche, or diplomatic protest, to the Berlusconi Government over allegations concerning the tactic.
However, a number of high-ranking officers in Nato have told The Times that payments were subsequently discovered to have been made in the Sarobi area as well.
Western officials say that because the French knew nothing of the payments they made a catastrophically incorrect threat assessment.
As a result, The Times writes, French forces were caught in "one of the biggest single losses of life by Nato forces in Afghanistan" and "the costliest battle for the French in a quarter of a century."
Operating in an arc of territory north and east of the Afghan capital, the French apparently believed that they were serving in a relatively benign district. The Italians they had replaced in July had suffered only one combat death in the previous year. For months the Nato headquarters in Kabul had praised Italian reconstruction projects under way around Sarobi. When an estimated 170 insurgents ambushed the force in the Uzbin Valley the upshot was a disaster. "They took us by surprise," one French troop commander said after the attack.
A Nato post-operations assessment would sharply criticise the French force for its lack of preparation. "They went in with two platoons [approximately 60 men]," said one senior Nato officer. "They had no heavy weapons, no pre-arranged air support, no artillery support and not enough radios."
Had it not been for the chance presence of some US special forces in the area who were able to call in air support for them, they would have been in an even worse situation. ...
The force was trapped until airstrikes forced the insurgents to retreat the next morning. By then ten French soldiers were dead and 21 injured.