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5 Jan, 2010 01:27

Italian authorities accused of bribing Taliban

Italian authorities have come under fire from the US government for allegedly paying protection money to Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. Rumors turned into news after the British Times newspaper reported the story.

Bruce Riedel, Head of President Obama’s Afghanistan policy review, told the Times that a businessman with close ties to the French Government told Reidel that the Italians had been paying the Taliban, “but had forgotten to tell [the French].”

The subject of bribery first emerged in 2008 when ten French soldiers were killed in east Kabul. French forces had taken over the district, previously controlled by Italian troops, and misjudged the level of the threat. The French subsequently claimed the Italians had been making payments to local commanders, of which the French were unaware and, thus, suffered the consequences.

Rome has denied all allegations. Even the Northern League – an Italian political party and a fierce critic of the campaign in Afghanistan – refuses to believe that war tactics could come down to a question of money.

I can exclude with almost complete certainty that our officials ever paid the Taliban or any other terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda and so on to prevent attacks on Italians,” says Franco Claretti of the Northern League. “If they did so they would be criminals. Italians take a different approach. We try to talk to locals, we regard their religion. Italian troops are attacked less because they have closer ties with the Afghan people.”

Geo-politician Lucio Caracciolo, however, says that bribery in war zones is not illegal and tactics of cajoling does not breach any military doctrine.

Afghans are famous because, as we say, ‘you can’t buy them but you can rent them’ --so at least for a certain amount of time it may be useful,” Caracciolo says. “Even in the counter-insurgency manuals – what, for example, the Americans did in Iraq after a certain amount of time – was buying the tribal leaders in the Sunni areas. It was public, it was nothing secret.”

Recently, Italy proposed an idea of a United European army, which could mean it would have less control over its military tactics. The formation of such an army seeks to optimize resources in war zones and ensure a more rapid response to possible military attacks.

When President Obama asks Italy to do more in Afghanistan, to provide more troops – if we had a European army instead of 27 national armies we would be better at rapidly responding to the request of the US and NATO,” says Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. “There’s no contradiction. On the contrary – there is integration.”

If European troops are integrated into one force in Afghanistan, "zones of Italian or French interest" would cease to exist and the problem of bribes in war zones could disappear. After all, Europe has already gone through similar integration when it agreed to use the euro and when it signed the Schengen Accord.