Trading five captured Taliban for a kidnapped Italian journalist last month turned out, as expected, to be a major headache. Since then, there have been three more kidnappings, with the Taliban holding fifteen hostages (two French, 13 Afghan), and demanding that Taliban prisoners be released, or the hostages will be killed. To prove their point, the Taliban beheaded the Afghan interpreter of the freed Italian journalist. The government, realizing it had made a mistake dealing for the Italian journalist, refused to make a deal for the Afghan interpreter. The only reason an exchange was made in the first place was because the Italian government was under pressure, by political disputes back home, to withdraw Italian troops from Afghanistan, because of the kidnapped Italian journalist. It was a tough call to make, because the Italian troops are among those NATO forces who are not allowed to fight, but they do help with security in areas of the country where there is no Taliban threat. Afghans were upset that a similar deal was not made for the two Afghans taken with the Italian. But the government realized too late that, making such deals, only leads to more kidnappings.
Italy is the latest nation to realize that it’s troops have to be equipped with new communications and computer gear, to make them capable of "network-centric" operations. The Italians have first hand experience in Iraq, with American units equipped for this sort of thing. They note Germany, and other NATO countries, spending billions on this. So the Italians have budgeted $13 billion to buy the equipment needed to operate with a battlefield Internet capability.
Italy sees most of this capability being put to work on peacekeeping missions. Italy currently has over 10,000 troops deployed overseas in peacekeeping missions. This kind of work puts a premium on communications. The peacekeepers are usually outnumbered by the local bad guys, and need to keep an eye on a large amount of unfamiliar territory. The Italian effort is a common strategy among nations who are spending the large amounts of money to make their troops "digital." Many peacekeepers are already using satellite communications and UAVs, two major components of digital forces, and know that the stuff makes live a lot easier out there. (TKS Berlusconi)
March 22, 2007 :
Italian firm Iveco has a produced a new Light Multirole Vehicle (LMV), for the Italian army, and several foreign customers. The seven ton, 4×4 vehicle is another design influenced by the success of armored hummers being used in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Italian army has ordered 1,210 LMVs, and will receive 500 this year. Belgium and Britain have each ordered 400, and Norway has bought 25.
Like the hummer, the LMV normally carries five people. The LMV can carry a remote control gun turret on the roof, and there will be variants in which the rear of the vehicle will be used for cargo or equipment. The LMV is similar in size to the hummer (15.8 feet long and 7.3 feet wide), but is actually a few percent larger, and weighs about a third more. Like the hummers built with armor (rather than having it added), the LMV provides excellent protection from bullets and roadside bombs. The V-shaped hull of the LMV improves protection from explosions beneath the vehicle. The LMV costs about the same as an armored hummer ($170,000 each).
Italy is still Allied?
There was a major embarrassment at the CIA when it was discovered that Italian detectives had been able to identify and track some CIA agents because the agents had used a frequent flyer card to travel around Europe. That card provided enough information for the Italians to identify the CIA men as CIA employees. All this was going on because the Italian agents were trying to find out if the CIA was involved in the abduction of a Kurdish terrorist from Italy in 2003. Although this was done with the cooperation of Italian counter-terrorism officials, it was also done without the permission of the Italian government. That has turned into a major scandal in Italy, where fear of terrorists and anti-Americanism both compete for media attention (This has happened with the actual leftist-communist government).
The CIA is conducting an investigation to find out how widespread this sort of sloppiness is among its field agents. One thing that will probably come out of this is that the CIA agents thought that, since they were operating in an allied country, and with obviously cooperative Italian counter-terrorism agents, they did not have to use the kind of precautions meant to keep them safe in a hostile environment.
While European counter-terrorism organizations have been diligent at tracking, and fighting, Islamic terrorism in Europe, their political bosses are faced with media and public attitudes driven more by fear (of terrorist attack) and a desire to blame someone else (like the U.S.) This creates some strange situations. Like Italian courts trying to track down and arrest American CIA employees.
May 8, 2007:
The government has about 100,000 soldier and police in service or training. Over the next few years, that number will be increased to at least 132,000. While the Taliban and drug gangs have far fewer armed men on the payroll (under 20,000), they have the cash to pay their gunmen more, and bribe army and police commanders. This corruption is a major problem in the security forces, and is expected to get worse.
May 7, 2007:
The Taliban and al Qaeda continue to use suicide bomb attacks as much as possible. There have been about 43 such attacks so far this year, which have killed over a hundred people (most of them civilians). Overall, the level of Taliban violence is less than last year. The Taliban boasted of a larger "offensive" this year, but so far have not been able to deliver.
May 6, 2007:
Since October, 2001, 200 U.S. troops have been killed in combat. That’s about one soldier in every 600 who has served a year in Afghanistan. That’s an exceptionally low casualty rate. In addition, 119 soldiers died from non-combat causes. When Russia was fighting in Afghanistan during the 1980s, they had about six times as many troops in the country, and suffered about 35 times as many combat dead, and even more non-combat dead (mainly from disease).
May 2, 2007:
The Taliban have had more success using publicists, than guys with guns. Issuing stories of American atrocities against Afghans, are readily accepted by many news outlets in the region and around the world. Later reports of how those stories proved to be false, do not get picked up as eagerly. This the Taliban can score points among people outside the combat zone. But on the ground, the truth is much more harmful to the Taliban. The use of civilians as human shields is a widely known Taliban tactics, and entire villages will flee if they know Taliban fighters are headed their way. If there are enough armed men in the village, the Taliban will be confronted with force, and urged to go elsewhere.
April 9, 2007:
The Taliban ambushed a demining team, killing seven and wounding four. Until now, demining teams were left alone, since the Russian land mines, that still cover about 15 percent of the country, are a threat to all. The demining effort has been going on since 1989, paid for by over $300 million in foreign aid. But the Taliban see anything benefiting Afghans, that does not come from the Taliban, as hurting support for the Taliban. So now the Taliban attack any foreign aid project, including food and medical supplies for those hurt during the Spring floods. It’s Gods Will.
April 5, 2007:
While the Taliban talk of a Spring offensive, it’s NATO and Afghan troops who are actually launching one. The battlefield is Helmand province in the south. This is the home of the most dedicated Taliban tribesmen, as well as the most active producers of opium and heroin. Helmand is where the money is, the money that keeps the Taliban, as well as the drug gangs, going. It’s tough to run a heroin producing operation with all these soldiers running around, but the drug business is the core of Taliban military strength. The pro-Taliban tribes have been defending their conservative ways for centuries. In the 1990s, these southern tribes managed to gain control of most of Afghanistan, and tried to impose their customs on the rest of the country. This was a spectacular failure, as seen by the rapidity of the Taliban’s collapse in late 2001. The current "war" is an attempt by the Taliban to establish a base in southern Afghanistan. So far, this effort has failed.