LONDON: Ten French soldiers killed in Afghanistan failed to realise the risks in the area because Italian officials had secretly paid the Taliban to desist from violence, a British newspaper has reported.The Times in London said the Italian secret service had been paying tens of thousands of dollars to Taliban commanders and local warlords to keep the Sarobi area near Kabul quiet in the months before French forces moved in.The French had been in charge of the area for just a month when the 10 soldiers were killed in an insurgent ambush in August 2008, in one of the biggest single losses of life for NATO forces in Afghanistan.The Times said US intelligence officials had been shocked to discover through intercepted telephone conversations that the Italians had been buying off militants, notably in Herat province in the far west.In June 2008, several weeks before the ambush, the US ambassador in Rome made a diplomatic protest to the Berlusconi Government over allegations concerning the tactic, The Times said.Payments were discovered to have been made in the Sarobi area as well, but the incoming French forces did not know.The Italian forces they had replaced in July had suffered only one combat death in the previous year.The report said that because the French knew nothing of the bribes they made a ”catastrophically incorrect threat assessment” of the area. It explains why the French troops were relatively lightly armed and insufficiently backed up by air cover when they were ambushed by 170 heavily armed insurgents, it added.The Taliban and the insurgent Hezb-i-Islami faction claimed responsibility for the attack.A senior NATO officer in Kabul told the newspaper: ”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.”In October 2007, two Italian agents were kidnapped in western Afghanistan. One was killed during a rescue by British special forces. The Italian press alleged they had been seized while making payments to the Taliban.Another NATO confirmed to The Times the allegations of Italian money going to insurgents. “The Italian intelligence service made the payments, it wasn’t the Italian Army,” he said. “It was payments of tens of thousands of dollars regularly to individual insurgent commanders. It was to stop Italian casualties that would cause political difficulties at home.”Agence France-Presse
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