September 23, 2007

Italy – you brought this on yourselves

According to reports out of western Afghanistan, two Italian soldiers have been kidnapped by members of the Taliban – many believe they are likely associated with the Italian military intelligence service SISMI (Servizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare).

This comes in an area that has not been known for recent violence. Now we have two members of the Italian contingent possibly kidnapped. Why would two Italians be kidnapped in this area? Perhaps it is because Italy has gained the reputation as the country that pays ransoms for the release of its nationals, both in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Their past dealings with insurgent hostage-takers:

  • September 2004 – Italy paid a ransom (they said only “some money changed hands”) to Iraqi kidnappers to secure the release of two young aid workers, Simona Torretta and Simona Pari. The ransom amount was estimated to in the $25 million range.

  • March 2005 – Italy paid a suspected $10 million for the release of leftist journalist Giuliana Sgrena, whose case became famous when her Italian military intelligence escorts tried to run an American roadblock in Baghdad. The American troops, following the long-established rules of engagements of which the Italians were aware, fired on the car, killing one SISMI officer and wounding Sgrena and a second SISMI officer. Bottom line: SISMI, not known for its capabilities, blew it.

  • May 2005 – Italian aid worker Clementina Cantoni was kidnapped in Kabul and released three weeks later. Again, it was suspected that money was paid.
  • October 2006 – Italy paid two million dollars for the release of journalist Gabriele Torsello in Afghanistan.

  • March 2007 – Italy paid a ransom to the Taliban for the release of Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo, soon after her Afghan national translator was beheaded. The journalist was released after the government of Hamid Karzai agreed to release five senior Taliban prisoners in Afghan custody.
In July of this year, the Taliban kidnapped over 20 South Koreans, two Germans and five Afghans. Why? They think kidnapping work. Why not – Italy caved in and paid money and announced a troop withdrawal from Iraq, Karzai released a senior Taliban official as part of the Mastrogiacomo deal, and South Korea paid money. If you are the Taliban, the message is that kidnapping works.

The Taliban has been taking heavy casualties since the spring, after their announced “offensive.” Unable to match US and NATO forces in battle, they have resorted to roadside bombs, suicide bombing and kidnapping as their primary means of insurgency.

The Italians have created this problem for themselves. When the Iraqi insurgents or the Taliban see an Italian, they see a paycheck walking.