Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Thursday that Italy should bring its troops home from Afghanistan “as soon as possible” in the wake of the deadliest attack on Italian troops in Afghanistan since they began their mission there.
Mr. Berlusconi said he would negotiate any withdrawal with NATO to abide by Italy’s agreement with the coalition. But his statement underscores the growing unease among America’s allies in the war in Afghanistan amid mounting casualties and a growing insurgency eight years after the war began.
Six Italian soldiers and nine Afghan civilians died Thursday in a car bomb attack in Kabul. Four soldiers and around 30 civilians were injured. Italy has 3,100 soldiers in Afghanistan, and 20 have been killed there.
Berlusconi said he would withdraw 500 troops “in the next few weeks” who had been sent to Afghanistan ahead of national elections last month and whom Italy had already planned to bring home, reports Bloomberg.
He said he would develop a “transition strategy,” not an exit strategy, and promised not to make a unilateral decision on troop withdrawals without NATO input. “We cannot, after all we’ve done and all the human sacrifice, abandon this effort following traumatic events,” he said.
The attack may place growing pressure on Berlusconi’s government to downsize his country’s mission in Afghanistan. Bloomberg reports that a key ally of Berlusconi’s center-right coalition, Northern League leader Umberto Bossi, said Thursday Italian troops should be brought home “by Christmas.”
But Anna Finocchiaro, president of the opposition Democratic Party in the senate, said the country should now "reflect on the pain this moment has given us" and she called for a "calm discussion" of Italy's foreign troop deployments, including those in Afghanistan.
A colleague went further.
Antonio Di Pietro, who heads the small Italy of Values party, said that it was now necessary to have a discussion about the timing of an exit strategy from Afghanistan.
Italy is not the only American ally to show signs of weariness with the war in Afghanistan. The Christian Science Monitor reported last month that the British government has come under fierce pressure to justify its mission there after the number of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan surpassed those killed in Iraq.
Debate has also erupted in Germany over that country’s presence in Afghanistan, following an airstrike ordered by German troops that killed at least 90 people.
The Monitor also reported last week that a new poll shows public support in Europe for involvement in Afghanistan has plummeted, with huge majorities saying US President Barack Obama’s request for more troops should be refused. Seventy-five percent of Britons and 86 percent of Germans said the request should be turned down, and 41 percent of Britons and 41 percent of Germans want a full withdrawal.