Italian bribes to Taliban gets 10 French soldiers killed

The Italians have a lot to answer for if this story is true. And the fact that the US ambassador to Rome handed the Italian government a sharply worded Demarche about the incident would seem to indicate that we are aware of what Italian intelligence did when they paid thousands of dollars to Taliban commanders to keep them from attacking Italian soldiers.

The problem with this policy is that when the Italians left the area and handed over control to the French, they never told them about their little "arrangement" with the terrorists. The result was an ambush and 10 dead Frenchmen.

Tom Coghlan of the TimesOnline has the story:

What the grieving nation did not know was 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, The Times has learnt. 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.

Because the Italians had suffered only one combat death the previous year, the French assumed the area was relatively peaceful and quiet. They sent a patrol of 60 men into the hills, lightly armed  and without adequate air cover or communications.

About 150 Taliban fighters ambushed them, and it was only sheer luck that a couple of American special forces happened by and were able to call in air support. Otherwise, all 60 would have been lost and their bodies mutilated - just as their unfortunate comrades were.

It is not uncommon for UN forces to bribe local commanders to leave them alone. But NATO is there not to make nice with the Taliban but to kill them. And the reason for the bribes - that dead Italian soldiers would have caused Prime Minister Berlusconi troubles at home - is pretty wretched.

If they don't want to fight, get someone in there who will.