Berlusconi Denies Secret Payments to Taliban, Calls Allegations 'Baseless'

The office of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi issued a scathing response Thursday to a Times of London article alleging that Italy secretly paid off Taliban members in Afghanistan, calling the claims "baseless."

"The Berlusconi government has never authorized or allowed any form of payment of sums of money in favour of members of the insurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, and is not aware of similar initiatives by the previous government," said a statement issued by Berlusconi's office.

Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa called the report "trash."

The Times of London report alleges that Italian soldiers failed to tell French troops — assuming control of the Sarobi region east of Kabul from the departing Italians in 2008 — that they had maintained peace in the area by secretly paying local Taliban militants.

Western officials told the Times of London that the French knew nothing of the alleged financial agreement, and were unaware of the threats facing their forces.

A month after assuming control of Sarobi, ten French soldiers were killed in an ambush by Taliban fighters, in what was one of the largest losses of life suffered by NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Berlusconi, who was in Sofia, Bulgaria, on Thursday, insisted his government had never authorized payments to the Taliban, and that he was unaware of any such agreement between the Taliban and the previous Italian government under Prime Minister Romano Prodi.

Click here for a report from the Times of London.