Did Italy pay off the Taliban?

The Times makes a very serious allegation against the Italian government today in a piece suggesting that the Italian secret service had been secretly paying Taliban leaders to keep an area it was patrolling quiet. Worse, they reportedly didn’t tell the French soldiers who took the area over, resulting in an ambush that killed ten ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.

The Times makes a very serious allegation against the Italian government today in a piece suggesting that the Italian secret service had been secretly paying Taliban leaders to keep an area it was patrolling quiet. Worse, they reportedly didn't tell the French soldiers who took the area over, resulting in an ambush that killed ten French soldiers:

The Times makes a very serious allegation against the Italian government today in a piece suggesting that the Italian secret service had been secretly paying Taliban leaders to keep an area it was patrolling quiet. Worse, they reportedly didn’t tell the French soldiers who took the area over, resulting in an ambush that killed ten French soldiers:

The clandestine payments, whose existence was hidden from the incoming French forces, were disclosed by Western military officials.

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.

“One cannot be too doctrinaire about these things,” a senior Nato officer in Kabul said. “It might well make sense to buy off local groups and use non-violence to keep violence down. But it is madness to do so and not inform your allies.”

Italy’s defense minister condemned the report, calling it "offensive to the deaths we have suffered in Afghanistan, to our injured ones and to the daily level of commitment of our soldiers." The French defense ministry also say they have no information to corroborate the report. 

Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi denied making the payments but also seemed to pass the buck to his predecessor, Romano Prodi. 

“The Berlusconi government has never authorised any kind of money payment to members of the Taleban insurrection in Afghanistan and has no knowledge of initiatives of this type by the previous government,” said the statement.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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