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French troops died after Italy stopped bribing local Taliban, Times reports

Text by Mehdi Chebil

Latest update : 2009-10-16

Ten French soldiers killed by the Taliban in 2008 were part of a unit that made incorrect threat assessments because they were unaware that Italian officials had been keeping the peace by bribing local insurgents, according to a Times report.

France’s bloodiest day in Afghanistan could have been avoided according to a report published this Thursday by the British newspaper The Times.

Citing senior NATO officials, The Times alleges that French troops underestimated the risks in the Sarobi area, near Kabul, because they were not aware of previous clandestine payments to the local insurgents.

The ten lightly-armed French soldiers who were on patrol with other members of their parachutist regiment were killed on August 18, 2008 after being ambushed by an estimated 170 Taliban fighters, only weeks after taking over from Italian troops in what seemed a comparatively peaceful district 65 kilometres east of Kabul. The Italian forces they had replaced in July had suffered only one combat death in the previous year.

“The Times is alleging that the Italian secret service has been involved in paying off the local Taliban to allow Italian civil reconstruction workers to get into that area and do projects… The problem seems to be that the Italians didn’t inform the French of this”, said Jon Boone, the Guardian correspondent for FRANCE 24.

The ambushed French patrol was trapped overnight by heavy insurgent fire, until airstrikes called in by US Special Forces forced the Taliban to withdraw.

“They had no heavy weapons, no pre-arranged air support, no artillery support and not enough radios (…) The French were carrying just two medium machine guns and 100 rounds of ammunition per man”, said a senior NATO official quoted by The Times.

A mix of Taliban and insurgent Hezb-i-Islami fighters claimed responsibility for the attacks, which shocked France after it emerged that many of the bodies of the dead soldiers had been mutilated after they had died.

The Italian Government has firmly denied bribing the Taliban.

“Italy’s defense minister, Ignazio La Russa, said The Times’ report is meaningless. He also adds that had just been appointed in the summer of 2008 and that he has never heard of the Italian secret service paying off Taliban leaders”, says Alexis Masciarelli, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Rome.

NATO has not issued any official reaction yet.

Date created : 2009-10-15

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