The Italian military Saturday held an emotional religious ceremony in Kabul for six soldiers killed in one of the deadliest suicide attacks targeting NATO troops before flying their remains back to Rome.
Six coffins draped in the Italian tricolour and topped with small cushions carrying the regimental purple berets of the fallen soldiers were displayed at the main NATO base near Kabul airport where soldiers from 40 countries paid silent homage.
An Italian priest recited prayers after which the national anthem was sung. The coffins were then transported to a Transall carrier.
Many Italian soldiers were in tears.
“They arrived in May,” said Saverio Cucinotta, a spokesman for the contingent based in Kabul.
The soldiers’ funerals will be held on Monday in Italy, which has announced a day of national mourning.
A suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into a two-vehicle convoy of Italian paratroopers in central Kabul not far from the US embassy on the busy airport road on Thursday, killing the soldiers and 10 Afghan civilians.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said after the attack that Rome now wants to trim its deployment in Afghanistan but only with agreement from NATO partners.
“We are keen to bring our boys home as soon as possible,” Berlusconi said.
Italy is the sixth biggest contributor to more than 100,000 NATO and US-led forces fighting in Afghanistan, deploying about 3,250 troops.
The bombing, claimed by the Taliban, was the third in Kabul in a month, in an apparent spike of attacks on international military installations and personnel in the capital.
Foreign military deaths in Afghanistan are at record levels — 357 this year according to icasualties.org — and the mounting number body bags coming home has sent support for the war plummeting in Europe and the United States.