ROME: The killing of six Italian soldiers in Afghanistan — Italy's deadliest day in the conflict to date — has set off calls to bring the troops home or least for a change in the international strategy in the war.
As Italy mourned its dead Friday, only a few politicians have urged a straight pullout of Italy's 2,800 troops in Afghanistan. But a poll taken last week — before the attacks — already showed that a majority of Italians wanted the soldiers back. This week's bloody attacks are likely to reinforce that stance, a pollster said.
Premier Silvio Berlusconi has ruled out a unilateral withdrawal, stressing that any move would be discussed with allies.
But as he went to pay homage to the dead soldiers in a memorial Friday, he said that "we will need to come up with a transition strategy in order to charge the new government with more responsibility."
He said the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who just won a disputed election, should increasingly take control of the security situation and allow foreign troops to progressively leave.
Berlusconi met with the new U.S. ambassador to Italy, David H. Thorne, for talks that had been long arranged but that were likely devoted to Afghanistan.
Under pressure from Washington, Italy last year agreed to lift some restrictions on the use of Italian troops in combat.
The brazen attack Thursday in the Afghan capital, Kabul, killed the six Italians and 10 Afghan civilians. The bodies of the Italians are expected back home on Sunday, with a state funeral planned for the following day.
The attack highlighted surging violence in Afghanistan — mirrored in Western capitals by growing skepticism over the eight-year conflict in the Central Asian nation.
A poll, conducted last week but published by Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper on Friday, showed that 58 percent of Italians were against the war, while 26 percent said they wanted to keep the troops there and 16 percent did not know. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, said the ISPO institute that conducted it.
Renato Mannheimer of ISPO said the figures are "bound to inevitably go up."
"A lot must be changed," Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said of the international mission in Afghanistan.
"Even if we had 30,000 soldiers more, they wouldn't be enough. Surely to win the trust of the Afghans, it's more useful to have 30,000 more schools than an extra 100,000 troops," he told Corriere. "This means staying — not an exit strategy, not leaving."
Reforms Minister Umberto Bossi, a key Berlusconi ally, said immediately after the attack that Italy should bring its troops home by Christmas, irritating other members of the government. Others on the extreme also demanded a troop withdrawal.
Members of Bossi's Northern League party appeared to tone down that demand during a Cabinet meeting Friday, proposing instead that Italy reduce its peacekeeping missions in Lebanon and the Balkans, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.
While all newspapers devoted huge space to Thursday's attack, Corriere della Sera featured a front-page commentary with the headline "Everybody home? A temptation to resist."