French Official Downplays Report That Italians Had Been Paying Off Taliban

One of the more disturbing stories of the day, as we noted earlier, is the Times of London report that:

When French soldiers arrived to assume control of the Sarobi area, east of Kabul, in mid-2008, they were not informed that the departing Italians had kept the region relatively peaceful by paying local Taliban fighters to remain inactive.

Western officials say that because the French knew nothing of the payments they made a catastrophically incorrect threat assessment. Within a month, 10 French soldiers had been killed in an ambush by the insurgents.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and others in his government have vehemently denied that any such payments were made.

From Paris, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports that the French defense ministry is downplaying the story — calling it an old rumor and saying that French forces have been working well with the Italians for more than two years. Relatives of the French soldiers who were killed, though, say if the story is true it's appalling:

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