A leading newspaper in Britain has defended its claim that Taliban fighters were paid not to attack Italian troops in Afghanistan. The Times said it had proof that bribes were offered, despite furious denials from Rome. The paper revealed that the Taliban itself confirmed the story, backing up information from sources inside NATO.
“The reason we know about those payments is because the US intelligence services, according to our sources inside NATO, managed to tap phone conversations between insurgent commanders and Italian intelligence agents,” said Times reporter Tom Coghlan.
The Times said a deal was struck last year whereby militants were paid not to attack Italian forces operating east of Kabul. A local Taliban commander has now said it was agreed that neither side should target the other. Two senior Afghan officials have also confirmed the story.
In Rome, the Italian government reacted with outrage, accusing The Times of being anti-Italian.
“No government has ever worked in the way The Times has described,” said Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa. “I find it hateful that this newspaper seems to be repeatedly running a campaign of anti-Italianism, using all sorts of rubbish without checking. They just publish the report.”
The alleged bribes came to light when French troops replaced the Italians but knew nothing about any payments. The Taliban said it thought the Italians had reneged on the deal and attacked, killing 10 French soldiers.