THE PLANK OCTOBER 15, 2009
The Times of London has a pretty disturbing/infuriating story about payments the Italian Secret Service allegedly made to Taliban commanders and local warlords to buy peace and quiet in areas of Afghanistan where Italian troops were stationed. It's not the payments per se that were the problem; if members of the Taliban can be bribed over to NATO's side, I say bribe them. The problem is, the Italians hid the payments from their NATO allies, and when they handed those areas over to the French, the results were disastrous:
On August 18, a month after the Italian force departed, a lightly armed French patrol moved into the mountains north of Sarobi town, in the district of the same name, 65km (40 miles) east of Kabul. They had little reason to suspect that they were walking into the costliest battle for the French in a quarter of a century.
Operating in an arc of territory north and east of the Afghan capital, the French apparently believed that they were serving in a relatively benign district. The Italians they had replaced in July had suffered only one combat death in the previous year. For months the Nato headquarters in Kabul had praised Italian reconstruction projects under way around Sarobi. When an estimated 170 insurgents ambushed the force in the Uzbin Valley the upshot was a disaster. “They took us by surprise,” one French troop commander said after the attack.
Ten French troops were killed in the ambush. Berlusconi's office, for what it's worth, calls The Times report "completely groundless"--although I think it's generally a good rule of thumb not to put too much faith in any of Berlusconi's denials these days.