The Italian secret service led the French army into a trap:
When ten French soldiers were killed last year in an ambush by Afghan insurgents in what had seemed a relatively peaceful area, the French public were horrified.
Their revulsion increased with the news that many of the dead soldiers had been mutilated — and with the publication of photographs showing the militants triumphantly sporting their victims’ flak jackets and weapons. The French had been in charge of the Sarobi area, east of Kabul, for only a month, taking over from the Italians; it was one of the biggest single losses of life by Nato forces in Afghanistan.
What the grieving nation did not know was that in the months before the French soldiers arrived in mid-2008, the Italian secret service had been paying tens of thousands of dollars to Taleban commanders and local warlords to keep the area quiet, The Times has learnt. The clandestine payments, whose existence was hidden from the incoming French forces, were disclosed by Western military officials.
On August 18, a month after the Italian force departed, a lightly armed French patrol moved into the mountains north of Sarobi town, in the district of the same name, 65km (40 miles) east of Kabul. They had little reason to suspect that they were walking into the costliest battle for the French in a quarter of a century.
Operating in an arc of territory north and east of the Afghan capital, the French apparently believed that they were serving in a relatively benign district. The Italians they had replaced in July had suffered only one combat death in the previous year. For months the Nato headquarters in Kabul had praised Italian reconstruction projects under way around Sarobi. When an estimated 170 insurgents ambushed the force in the Uzbin Valley the upshot was a disaster. “They took us by surprise,” one French troop commander said after the attack.
In Kabul a high-ranking Western intelligence source was scathing. “It’s an utter disgrace,” he said. “Nato in Afghanistan is a fragile enough construct without this lot working behind our backs. The Italians have a hell of a lot to answer for.”