The U.K. Times Online, attributing the story to “Western military officials,” alleges the Italians were paying the Taliban to keep them quiet, and not telling a French unit relieving them of the arrangement, Shortly after the relief, 10 French troops were killed in a major ambush.
Italy and France denies the allegations, but The Times goes further, receiving confirmation from Afghan officials as well as a Taliban commander:
Mohammed Ishmayel, a Taleban commander, said that a deal was struck last year so that Italian forces in the Sarobi area, east of Kabul, were not attacked by local insurgents …. Mr Ishmayel said that under the deal it was agreed that “neither side should attack one another. That is why we were informed at that time, that we should not attack the Nato troops.” The insurgents were not informed when the Italian forces left the area and assumed they had broken the deal. Afghan officials also said they were aware of the practice by Italian forces in other areas of Afghanistan.
Now, buried in this story from Agence France-Presse, a “Western military source” says Canada (among others) have been doing the same thing:
…. 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.
A spokesperson with Canada’s Expeditionary Forces Command (CEFCOM) denies such payments, bringing up a good point:
“I haven’t heard of any type of payment that would be done by our troops in order to remain protected,” said Lt.-Col. Chris Lemay, a spokesperson with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces Command. “With the number of casualties we’ve been getting, had we paid these guys they wouldn’t be holding up their end of their bargain.”
The best summary of why the “bribe the tribes” approach can’t work in the long run in Afghanistan (compared to how it seemed to work in Iraq) comes from Nathan Hodge over at Wired.com’s Danger Room blog:
…. the biggest flaw in the “bribe the Taliban” argument: What happens when you stop paying?
Once again, the Iraq example is instructive. Responsibility for paying Sunni tribal militias, referred to by the U.S. military as the Sons of Iraq (SoI), was handed over to the government of Iraq, and a certain number of SoI were eventually supposed to be absorbed into Iraq’s security forces. But not all has gone to plan: Earlier this year, fighting erupted in Baghdad after the arrest of Adel Mashadani, a Sunni militia leader and key figure in the “Awakening” movement. As the central government moved to disarm and disband Awakening councils, it prompted concern about a renewed violence in Iraq as U.S. troops packed up for withdrawal.
And Afghanistan presents a much more difficult case. Iraq’s central government can count on a decent stream of revenue; Afghanistan’s government is pretty much broke. Bribery may work to a point, but it seems highly unlikely that Kabul could keep its internal opponents on the payroll when its operating budget is largely drawn from foreign aid and it can barely cover the cost of maintaining its army and police.
Makes sense to me.
Update (1): This, from the Canadian Press:
Task Force Kandahar spokesperson Maj. Mario Couture says an Agence France-Presse report that alleges Canadian soldiers tried to buy off insurgents is “totally baseless” …. Couture says Canadian soldiers do pay out sums to Afghans who agree to hand in their weapons, while offering others paid work to encourage them to turn their backs on the Taliban …. Defence Minister Peter MacKay, speaking in St. John’s, said it was the first he was hearing of the report and described it as likely “Taliban propaganda.”
UPDATE (2): So, could the story be Taliban propaganda?