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12 Feb, 2010 05:47

Rent-a-peace with Taliban – cash over casualties

More claims are surfacing of NATO troops bribing the Taliban. Italy's secret service is under fire for allegedly paying off insurgent leaders - which is thought to have led to the massacre of 10 French soldiers.

When parents outlive their children, their grief can be indescribable. But their pain is doubled if they learn the tragedy could have been prevented. Joel Le Pahun's son was one of 10 French soldiers killed during a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan two years ago. Now he is suing his son’s commanders for “reckless endangerment”.

“We are suing them because they made our children go on patrol that day with no safety precautions. Commanders knew the Taliban were swarming all over the area. There was no scouting of the route from the air. And shortly before the attack, soldiers caught their Afghan translator talking to somebody on the phone, which is strictly prohibited. They reported it to their commander, but they were ignored,” Le Pahun says.

Recent reports have re-opened the father’s wound even deeper. Claims in the British media say the French made a “catastrophically incorrect” threat assessment because they were unaware the region was being kept calm because of bribes being paid by their Italian allies.

”After I heard the news I talked to the French soldiers – did you know about the bribes? And they confirmed that the Italians they took over the area from had paid the village chiefs. It wasn’t directly to the Taliban, but through middlemen,” Le Pahun says.

Rome denies the allegations. Even a fierce critic of the Afghanistan campaign refuses to believe that war tactics could stoop so low.

“I can rule out with almost complete certainty that our officials have ever paid the Taliban or terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda to avoid attacks on Italians. Italians take a different kind of approach. We try to build dialogue with the locals, we respect their religion. They’re attacked less often because they have closer ties with the Afghan people,” Franco Claretti from the Northern League Party says.

And yet some still hold the principle: “If you can’t kill your enemy you buy him.”

“Afghans are famous because as we say – you can't buy them but you can rent them, at least for a short amount of time,” says Luccio Caracciolo, Editor-in-chief of Limes Review of Geopolitics magazine. “It’s even in the counter-insurgency manuals. Look, for example, what the Americans did in Iraq after a certain amount of time, buying the tribal leaders in other areas. It was public, it was nothing secret.”

Paying off the Taliban has already become official strategy for some. A $500 million plan to buy off jobless fighters was recently approved. 43 NATO nations now fighting in the country believe this last-resort measure could end the 9-year war.

But Carol Turner, an activist from the Stop the War coalition, says Afghanistan badly needs money to rebuild, and paying warlords can only fuel violence.

“It’s simply paying warlords and tribal leaders to go over on to the NATO side. If this happens, whether it will last is another question,” Turner said.

But Joel is unconvinced. He can only speculate over where the Taliban got its cash to buy the weapons which killed his son – and he hopes that European protection money will not end up as gun-barrels pointing at their children.