Berlusconi Says Italy to Withdraw 500 Afghanistan Troops Soon
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said that he plans to bring home at least 500 of the country's 3,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan "in the next few weeks" after six were killed in a suicide bombing in Kabul yesterday, Bloomberg reported.
The Italian soldiers and nine Afghan civilians were killed when a car bomb exploded near a military convoy in central Kabul, the Defense Ministry said. Four Italian soldiers were seriously injured. Italy had increased its troop level by 500 before Afghanistan's August national election.
About 500 troops "we can withdraw in the next few weeks" in agreement with NATO allies, Berlusconi told reporters after a European Union summit in Brussels late yesterday. Rather than an exit strategy, allies are discussing a "transition strategy," he said.
Berlusconi said that Italy would make no unilateral decisions and that North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies would decide all troop-level decisions together.
"We cannot, after all we've done and all the human sacrifice, abandon this effort following traumatic events," he said.
Yesterday's attack against Italy's forces in the country - - the worst ever -- prompted Berlusconi's key ally, Northern League leader Umberto Bossi, to say troops should be brought home "by Christmas." The attack came as President Barack Obama mulls whether to boost the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to quell rising violence and reverse gains by the Taliban.
Train Afghan Police
"I spoke with Obama at the G-8" in July, Berlusconi said before the EU summit. "We're preparing a plan that can train local Afghan law enforcement more quickly and efficiently."
Yesterday's blast brings to 20 the number of Italian soldiers who have died in Afghanistan since Italy's troops arrived in 2004. Italy's 3,000 soldiers in Afghanistan comprise the fifth largest NATO contingent after the U.S., Britain, Germany and France.
A white Toyota filled with an estimated 150 kilos of explosives detonated near the Italian convoy and the blast was most likely caused by a suicide bomber, the Defense Ministry said.