French troops KIA after Italy hushed up ‘bribes’ to Talebans

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  1. French troops were killed after Italy hushed up ‘bribes’ to Taleban

    When ten French soldiers were killed last year in an ambush by Afghan insurgents in what had seemed a relatively peaceful area, the French public were horrified.

    Their revulsion increased with the news that many of the dead soldiers had been mutilated — and with the publication of photographs showing the militants triumphantly sporting their victims’ flak jackets and weapons. The French had been in charge of the Sarobi area, east of Kabul, for only a month, taking over from the Italians; it was one of the biggest single losses of life by Nato forces in Afghanistan.

    What the grieving nation did not know was that in the months before the French soldiers arrived in mid-2008, the Italian secret service had been paying tens of thousands of dollars to Taleban commanders and local warlords to keep the area quiet, The Times has learnt. The clandestine payments, whose existence was hidden from the incoming French forces, were disclosed by Western military officials.

    US 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. In June 2008, several weeks before the ambush, the US Ambassador in Rome made a démarche, or diplomatic protest, to the Berlusconi Government over allegations concerning the tactic.

    However, a number of high-ranking officers in Nato have told The Times that payments were subsequently discovered to have been made in the Sarobi area as well.

    Western officials say that because the French knew nothing of the payments they made a catastrophically incorrect threat assessment.

    “One cannot be too doctrinaire about these things,” a senior Nato officer in Kabul said. “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.”

    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.

    A Nato post-operations assessment would sharply criticise the French force for its lack of preparation. “They went in with two platoons [approximately 60 men],” said one senior Nato officer. “They had no heavy weapons, no pre-arranged air support, no artillery support and not enough radios.”

    Had it not been for the chance presence of some US special forces in the area who were able to call in air support for them, they would have been in an even worse situation. “The French were carrying just two medium machine guns and 100 rounds of ammunition per man. They were asking for trouble and the insurgents managed to get among them.”

    A force from the 8th Marine Parachute Regiment took an hour and a half to reach the French over the mountains. “We couldn’t see the enemy and we didn’t know how many of them there were,” said another French officer. “After 20 minutes we started coming under fire from the rear. We were surrounded.”

    The force was trapped until airstrikes forced the insurgents to retreat the next morning. By then ten French soldiers were dead and 21 injured.

    The French public were appalled when it emerged that many of the dead had been mutilated by the insurgents— a mixed force including Taleban members and fighters from Hizb e-Islami.

    A few weeks later French journalists photographed insurgents carrying French assault rifles and wearing French army flak jackets, helmets and, in one case, a dead soldier’s watch.

    Two Western military officials in Kabul confirmed that intelligence briefings after the ambush said that the French troops had believed they were moving through a benign area — one which the Italian military had been keen to show off to the media as a successful example of a “hearts and minds” operation.

    Another Nato source confirmed 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.”

    When six Italian troops were killed in a bombing in Kabul last month it resulted in a national outpouring of grief and demands for troops to be withdrawn. The Nato source added that US intelligence became aware of the payments. “The Italians never acknowledged it, even though there was intercepted telephone traffic on the subject,” said the source. “The démarche was the result. It was not publicised because it would have caused a diplomatic nightmare. We found out about the Sarobi payments later.”

    In Kabul a high-ranking Western intelligence source was scathing. “It’s an utter disgrace,” he said. “Nato in Afghanistan is a fragile enough construct without this lot working behind our backs. The Italians have a hell of a lot to answer for.”

    Haji Abdul Rahman, a tribal elder from Sarobi, recalled how a benign environment became hostile overnight. “There were no attacks against the Italians. People said the Italians and Taleban had good relations between them.

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  2. Doesn't surprise me in the slightest. Had previous experience of this before in various hot and sandy places. The Eyeties never used to venture outside the wire unless it was to deliver a big fat brown envelope to the local wrong'un. Complete waste of time them being anywhere hostile.
  3. Biped

    Biped LE Book Reviewer

    Italy - exporting mafia bribery practices since 50AD.
  4. I seem to remember reading somewhere that we bribed the Afghan tribes to keep quiet during WW1 and WW2, also that we had to give some of them medals as well.
  5. Another feather in the illustrious Italian Military History cap.
  6. This could be a case for Tessa Jowell's 'estranged' husband, the lawyer David Mills to investigate; on a no bung/win no fee basis, of course.
  7. OldSnowy

    OldSnowy LE Moderator Book Reviewer

    I had experience of this in Iraq - they wanted a quiet life, and were prepared to pay for it in cash, rather than in blood. Their mistake in Afghanistan appears to have been not informing the French what they had done.

    And apart from the Italians, other Nations were perfectly happy to pay the locals 'rent' for their bases in Iraq; when we did not, we got rocketed in return. Their choice, our choice, and it's always nice to take the moral high ground in these matters - but the problem for me was that the people taking the moral stance were not those under the IDF :)

    Frankly, who is to say they made the wrong decision?
  8. Didn't General Lamb just say that bribery was an option in achieving victory in Afghanistan or words to that effect?
  9. Still a very tragic story.
  10. Biped

    Biped LE Book Reviewer

    One man's rent is another's extortion. It might be argued that the Taliban were being bribed, or more to the point, were managing to extort money from the Italians, thus making the Italians weak in the eyes of the Afghans. Worse than this, the Italians thus gave the Taliban free reign in their area, and thus defeated the entire point of their presence - to give the Afghans freedom from the oppression of the Taliban (well, that's one of the stated aims anyway).

    If you can only occupy an area because you are paying 'tributes' to the enemy you are there to defeat makes a mockery of the whole thing. It turns it into a charade, on which basis, get everyone out and back to blighty quick-smart.
  11. Spot on Biped. Sometimes paying someone off is the right thing to do, but to base your whole military strategy around it is nothing but a cop out of your responsibilities and has been tragically proven, you become a liability to your friends and allies.
  12. 1st Point: This is not new. All countries have been doing it for ages and most consider it money well spent.
    2nd: It seems surprising that the French would have no knowledge of the payments. Either from their own people or because, as I am sure has happened to many people - certainly me - the first thing that happens when you are the new unit in an area is an approach for continuing "support"
    3rd : Hypotheically the French might not have wanted to pay up - understandably - but clearly after the fact would not want to admit to this - it would leave them open to all manner of suing etc.
    4th : Regardless of what their Int Brief / understanding of the situation was they seemed to be woefully unprepared compared to how most other professional armies approach the situation in theatre.
    5th: Are the french really going to turn around and say - oops we messed up - unlikely and yet they seem strangely unquoted in the press. Equally has anyone asked the Italians for their version?
    I am not a francophobe - far from it - but this is a very skewed piece of reporting that will not help unity among the coalition. If you separate the "known" facts from the speculation a different picture emerges.
  13. To me, paying the OpFor not to attack you is a tad stupid. It would be better to just not be there IMO. Leaving that aside, for the Italians to not tell the frogs about it is criminal.
  14. Is it true that the Thinnest Book in the world is the Book of Italian War Hero's, hardback and two end pages :roll: :roll: :?