Ten French killed in Afghan

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 said Thursday.

The Times reported that the Italian secret service had been paying tens of thousands of dollars (euros) 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 Western military officials had revealed the existence of the payments, but they had been hidden from the incoming French forces at the time.

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 later alleged they had been seized while making payments to the Taliban.