US confronted Italy about 'payments to Taliban' for not to attack its troops: WikiLeaks

AFP , Friday 12 Aug 2011

Diplomatic cables reveal that Washington confronted Italy about claims of paying Taliban for not to attack its troops in Afghanistan, noting that Italian forces suffered less casualties than other forces

Diplomatic cables showed the United States confronted Italy about claims it paid Taliban not to attack its troops in Afghanistan, noting it suffered fewer casualties than other forces, media reported Friday.

Italy has already denied claims that it paid protection money to Taliban and other militants in an area where 10 French soldiers were killed in an ambush in February 2008 soon after taking over from Italian forces.

The United States was so concerned about the allegations that its then ambassador to Rome raised them with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the Espresso reported, citing leaked cables from 2008 released by WikiLeaks.

In an October 2008 message to Washington, ambassador Ronald Spogli praised Italy's decision to send troops to western Afghanistan under the NATO-led International Security Assistance (ISAF) mission.

"Unfortunately, the significance of this contribution has been undermined by Italy's growing reputation for avoiding combat and paying ransom and protection money.

"This reputation is based in part on rumors, in part on intelligence which we have not been fully able to corroborate," he said.

"True or false, the fact remains that Italy has lost 12 soldiers in Afghanistan -- fewer than most allies with comparable responsibilities," it said.

"I have raised this issue with PM Berlusconi in the past. He assured me that he was unaware of any such activity and would put a stop to it if he found evidence of it."

The ambassador added that if there were any basis to the allegations, "Italian actions are endangering allied troops."

The United States raised the subject in April 2008 and June that year, the newspaper reported.

The Italian government in October 2009 denied a report by the London Times , quoting Western military sources, that its secret service paid tens of thousands of dollars to Taliban and warlords in Sarobi district.

French soldiers were ambushed just a month after moving into the area, taking over from the Italians.

The French military also dismissed as baseless the reported claim that the French soldiers were attacked because they did not know about the alleged Italian payments.

The Espresso said that Robert Gates, while US defence secretary, had told the Italian government he was satisfied there was nothing to the claims.

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