Afghanistan: Italy eyes 2011 withdrawal after latest troop deaths
Italy is considering withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan's western province of Herat by the end of 2011 defence minister Ignazio La Russa told media on Monday. His comments followed the deaths of four Italian soldiers in western Afghanistan over the weekend which brought Italy's death toll in the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan since 2004 to 34, AKi reported.
"I need to discuss our proposal in the appropriate venues, with (the United States' top commander in Afghanistan, General David) Petraeus, and with NATO," La Russa told Italian daily La Stampa in an interview.
"It's possible that by 2011, the area of western Afghanistan under our control could be largely handed over to the Afghan government - more so than in other areas," La Russa said.
Allied strategy was to gain control of the territory, train Afghan forces and enable the Afghan government to run the country's police force and army, La Russa noted.
"This is why the international mission can go forward until 2013, but I hope our job will be finished sooner," he stated.
"But one thing is certain: we won't take unilateral decisions."
US president Barack Obama has set 2013 as a deadline for the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan, where around 150,000 soldiers are currently serving.
Francesco Vannozzi, Gianmarco Manca, Sebastiano Ville and Marco Pedone of the Alpine regiment were killed on Saturday when the vehicle in which they were travelling was ambushed by insurgents in western Farah province.
Another soldier was injured in the attack, which was claimed by the Taliban.
The repatratried bodies of the four Italian soldiers arrived on Monday in Rome, where president Giorgio Napolitano and prime minister Silvio Berlusconi paid homage to them.
The soldiers' coffins arrive at Rome's Ciampino airport on Monday, where the victims' relatives were waiting, along with La Russa and other top officials.
State funerals for the four were expected to take place in Rome on Tuesday.
Italy has around 3,300 soldiers in Afghanistan. That number is expected to rise to 4,000 by the end of 2010.