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Italy denies paying off Taliban

Article published on the 2009-10-15 Latest update 2009-10-15 14:13 TU

Berlusconi's government denies paying off Taliban forces in Afghanistan.(Photo: Reuters)

Berlusconi's government denies paying off Taliban forces in Afghanistan.
(Photo: Reuters)

Italy has strongly denied a report in the British Press that the country paid off Taliban forces not to attack troops in the Sarobi district of Afghanistan. Ten French soldiers died last year after apparently failing to understand the risks in the area. The force was sharply criticised by a post-operation Nato assessment for a lack of suitable equipment and preparation.

But Britain's Times newspaper reported that the French force thought they were taking control of a relatively benign area, where their Italian predecessors had faced little trouble. The Times claims this was because the Italian secret service had been secretly paying local Taliban leaders to keep the violence down.

In a statement released on Thursday, the office of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said it had “never authorised any kind of money payment to members of the Taliban insurrection in Afghanistan, and has no knowledge of initiatives of this type by the previous government.”

The French force had only been in the Sarobi district for a month when they were ambushed by around 170 heavily armed fighters. Ten soldiers were killed, the largest loss of life in a single incident in Afghanistan for the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf).

The Times claimed the French were not made aware of the alleged Italian secret service payments. A senior Nato officer in Kabul told the newspaper that “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.”

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