KABUL — NATO officially denies that any of its members pay insurgents in Afghanistan for peace, but military sources said Thursday that the practice is widespread among foreign forces fighting the Taliban.
The Times newspaper said 10 French troops killed in Sarobi, near Kabul, last year had not properly assessed the risks, because their Italian predecessors never told them they paid the Taliban not to attack them.
The Italian government described the British daily's report as "totally baseless" and said it had "never authorised any kind of money payment to members of the Taliban insurrection in Afghanistan".
But a senior Afghan official suggested otherwise.
"I certainly can confirm that we were aware that the Italian forces were paying the opposition in Sarobi not to attack them," he told AFP on condition of anonymity.
"We have reports of similar deals in (western) Herat province by Italian troops based there under NATO umbrella.
"It's a deal: you don't attack me, I don't attack you," he said, adding that the practice was passed on between foreign forces and it was likely that senior commanders were either involved or turned a blind eye to it.
"It is simply a matter of buying time and surviving," he added.
A French Army spokesman in Kabul, Lieutenant Colonel Jackie Fouquereau, told AFP: "The French do not give money to insurgents."
NATO spokesman in Afghanistan General Eric Tremblay said he was "not aware" of such practices and had no information about the Italian case.
"It's not a counter-insurgency tactic. But the Afghan government can sometimes make local arrangements. If it's done, it's more by the Afghan government than the international forces," he added.
But according to a number of Western and Afghan officers, all speaking on condition of anonymity, the politically sensitive practice is fairly widespread among NATO forces in Afghanistan.
One Western military source told of payments made by Canadian soldiers stationed in the violent southern province of Kandahar, while another officer spoke of similar practices by the German army in northern Kunduz.
"I can tell you that lots of countries under the NATO umbrella operating out in rural parts of Afghanistan do pay the militants for not attacking them," the senior Afghan official said.
He added that it "seems to be the practice with military forces from some NATO countries, excluding the US forces under NATO, the British forces and the whole coalition forces" under the US-led "Operation Enduring Freedom".
"I think more than 50 percent of NATO forces deployed in rural Afghanistan have such deals or at least have struck such deals" to ensure peace, the official said.
He said he did not want to say precisely how many but one Western officer said: "As it's not very positive and not officially recognised, it's never spoken about openly. It's a bit shameful.
"Consequently, it's sometimes not communicated properly between the old unit and the new unit that comes in to relieve them," which may have happened between the Italians and the French.
According to The Times, the Italian secret service gave tens of thousands of dollars to Taliban commanders and local warlords to keep the peace in the Sarobi region.
The French soldiers had been deployed there for less than a month when 10 of them were killed and 21 others injured on August 18, 2008 in one of the deadliest ambushes by insurgents against foreign forces.
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