Italy's prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said it would be better if the country's troops could leave Afghanistan as soon as possible. A recent car bomb targeting allied troops killed six Italian soldiers in Kabul.
Berlusconi, speaking to reporters Thursday, gave no timeline for a withdrawal and said any pullout would have to be coordinated with Italy's allies.
"There is no idea," Berlusconi said about a possible date for leaving Afghanistan. "It is an international problem. It is not a problem that a country present there can take on its own. Doing so could betray the accord and trust of the other countries present."
However, the 500 troops Italy sent to Afghanistan this summer will be home by Christmas, Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said Friday. The troops were sent ahead of the Afghan presidential election August 20.
The rest of the nation's 2,800 troops in Afghanistan will withdraw only when NATO calls for it, La Russa said.
Ten Afghan civilians were killed along with the paratroopers Thursday and about 50 people were wounded, NATO said. Italian newspapers labeled the soldiers' death a "slaughter," with at least four major papers using that word in their headlines Friday. "The slaughter of the Italians shakes Italy," declared the national newspaper Corriere della Sera.
Most of Italy's troops in Afghanistan are based in the western province of Herat.
"We are all convinced that the best thing for all of them is to leave soon, to no longer have a presence there," Berlusconi said in Brussels, Belgium. "I've spoken with [U.S. President Barack] Obama during the G-8 and we are preparing a plan which could be enacted as soon as our training of the Afghan forces is carried out successfully," CNN reports.
It was also reported, Berlusconi said on Thursday that "we are convinced it's best for everybody to get out soon" after Italian forces suffered their deadliest attack in Afghanistan to date.
Today, he sought to qualify his remarks, saying international allies must come up with a "transition strategy in order to charge the new government with more responsibility". He said the shift of security duties to the Afghan forces would go hand-in-hand with a decrease in international troops.
Italy has about 2,800 soldiers in Afghanistan. Thursday's victims, part of a contingent deployed in Kabul, bring to 20 the number of Italian troops who have died in Afghanistan, according to the defence ministry.
Comments from the conservative premier and some of his allies in government appeared to show some political confusion over what effect the attack will have on Italy's staunch commitment to helping the US militarily in Afghanistan.
Italy's defence minister, Ignazio La Russa, said early in the day that the "cowardly" attack in the Afghan capital would not affect Italy's commitment. But later on Thursday he indicated the role of Italy's mission would be reviewed.
And a key coalition partner in Berlusconi's government said he hoped Italy's troops could leave within three months.
"I hope that at Christmas all can return home," Umberto Bossi, the minister for institutional reforms, told reporters in northern Italy.
A poll for Corriere della Sera newspaper conducted last week before the bomb attack found that 58% of people wanted the troops out and 40% believed the mission had become "a war operation," Guardian.co.uk reports.
This year has been the deadliest for American and NATO troops since the 2001 invasion to oust the Taliban for sheltering al-Qaida leaders who plotted the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. Violence has been particularly harsh in the south, where thousands of U.S. troops have deployed to bolster the Canadian and British-led operations in the Taliban heartland.
The U.S. and NATO have a record number of troops in Afghanistan — nearly 100,000 in total — and the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is likely to soon request thousands more, The Associated Press reports.
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