The Times of London writes in an exclusive report published today that the 10 French soldiers who died in a Taliban ambush in August 2008 perished because the French army did not know their coalition predecessors, the Italians, had been paying the Taliban to keep the area quiet.
Italy and NATO today denied the newspaper report, with Italians calling it "completely groundless."
The Times writes that the Italian secret service had been paying tens of thousands of dollars to the Taliban and local warlords to keep the Sarobi area, east of Kabul, pacified. But they failed to inform the French of this when it was France's turn to take over control of the area and a month later, on Aug. 18, 2008, 10 French soldiers were killed in an ambush by Afghan insurgents.
The article says that because the French knew nothing of the payments they made a “catstrophically incorrect threat assessment” assuming that the area was quiet. The Italians had suffered only one combat death over the previous year.
The French and Italian defence ministries have both denied the allegations made by the Times but the article says that the “clandestine payments, whose existence was hidden from the incoming French forces, were disclosed by western military officials.”
The article, signed by Tom Coghlan, adds that “U.S. intelligence officials were flabbergasted when they found out through intercepted telephone conversations that the Italians had also been buying off militants, notably in Herat province in the far west.” The U.S. Ambassador in Rome protested to the Italian government.
Coghlan says he was told by “a number of high-ranking officers in NATO...that payments were subsequently discovered to have been made in the Sarobi area as well.” He quotes a senior NATO official in Kabul as saying 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.”