Real nature of Italy's 'peace mission' in Afghanistan exposed

Cecilia Anesi

Political commentators could be forgiven for thinking that Italy had followed Spain in striking a blow for European independence from American's superpower imperialism when they withdrew their troops from Iraq at the end of 2006. Yet in Rome, even the centre-left coalition that defeated Washington's friend Silvio Berlusconi, has stubbornly kept Italy's military in Afghanistan. It could cost them the election in May.

The decree for the re-funding of all the Italian foreign military missions, approved by the Consiglio dei Ministri on January 25 , will be converted into law very soon  — unless major opposition can be raised.

When prime minister Romano Prodi's central-left government seized power by a whisker in April 2006 many left-wing and green representatives of the Sinistra Arcobaleno, the new born federation of Rifondazione Comunista, Sinistra Democratica, Verdi and Comunisti Italiani (Pdci), declared their opposition to the different foreign Italian missions carelessly grouped in the same proposed law. But Prodi's government collapsed this month and the crucial pro-American vote has yet to come.

Anarchy seems to be the fashion of Italian politics. So many parliamentary representatives have felt free to announce their planned vote regardless of whether or not this would signal the collapse of the government. While the far left would rather stop funding the mission in Afghanistan, some representatives of the central left like Prodi are more devoted to the US-dominated NATO. Needless to say, central right and far right are supportive of the NATO's Afghanistan adventure. The never-ending hostilities of the supporters and opponents are splashed all over Italian newspapers and on TV programmes.

But the real nature of the Iraq and Afghan wars is kept off the agenda, even though Italy is, in fact, a country at war. It has been so since 2001  — though this has been well hidden behind the  'peace mission' assertion of our military. It needed the independent online daily PeaceReporter to reveal that Italian soldiers in Afghanistan, are involved in real combat missions that have little, if nothing, to do with peace. PeaceReporter explains how, since 2006, there have been several combat missions in which Italian forces have helped US and Afghan forces fight the Taliban.

On September 18 2006 Italian special forces, of Task-Force 45 and the paratroopers of the  'Trieste' infantry regiment of the Rapid Reaction Corps composed of Italian and Spanish forces, took part in  'Wyconda Pincer' operation in the districts of Bala Buluk and Pusht-i-Rod, in Farah province. Italian forces killed at least 70 Taliban.

The Italian Ministry of Defence ordered a publicity blackout over the episode. A similar attack was perpetrated on October 1 in the Gulistan district, Farah province. General Antonio Satta coordinated the attack of December 10 in Bala Buluk district. The war situation precipitated in 2007 was acknowledged as the deadliest year since the beginning of the invasion, with more than 7,000 people killed.

Today, according to PeaceReporter, the Taliban seems to control 54 per cent of the country and is active in another 38 per cent that includes the Italian-controlled province of Herat and Italian-defended capital of Kabul. NATO and US are concerned with a new Taliban spring offensive which they believe will take place soon. The rattled US military has pleaded for reinforcements to counter it.

Yet, despite major public opposition, Italian forces will keep providing help, as they did over the last year and a half, and this is a  'complete violation of Italian Constitution' which forbids military action by our forces which are not in the national interest.

Only recently the Italian public was informed, by PeaceReporter, that  'our' Task Force 45, the biggest Italian unit of special corps ever put on field since the operation Ibis in Somali, has been involved since September 2006 in the covert operation  'Sarissa'  — which consists of combat missions fought side to side with American Delta Forces and British SAS, particularly in Farah province.

Remarkably,  'Sarissa' was given the go-ahead by Prodi's government, whose electoral campaign had famously been to  'decrease Italian involvement in the Afghanistan war'. When the right-wing billionaire media moghul Silvio Berlusconi was prime minister,  'our' Afghan war was brazenly well advertised as a political plus.
The fact that troops and military equipment under Prodi's government have increased by 550 soldiers and that this goes well beyond the number approved by the the italian parliament has been kept a big secret. Three senators and a member of Rifondazione have, as a result, written a request for clarification by Prodi following revelations by PeaceReporter. Their request has been supported by another 37 representatives of the parliament. But so far there has been no answer from the self-proclaimed 'anti-war' prime minister.

Italy is known worldwide for wine, pasta and pizza. But there might be a point in the future when my country will be known for this illegal war, done against its own Constitution (article 13) and without the approval of its citizens who have so far paid more than  ‚¬ 441 billion, accordingly to the Ministry of Defence, to support the Iraq and Afghanistan US military actions.

* More than 100 people were killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan yesterday. The attack was the deadliest since the Taliban was removed from power in 2001 by the American invasion and follows a year of record violence and predictions the conflict could turn even deadlier in 2008. Officials said the suicide bomber targeted a militia leader, Abdul Hakim Jan, who died in the attack, along with 35 of his men.