Italian forces to remain in Afghanistan — for now
July 29, 2006
The Italian military’s mission in Afghanistan appears to be alive for at least another six months.
Italy’s Senate voted Thursday evening to approve more than 130 million euros ($171 million) to fund the troops and their mission, though not without some controversy — including charges that the vote wasn’t valid.
Despite some opposition from the far left, Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s center-left coalition approved the measure 159-0 by instituting a vote of confidence in the government. The opposition, led by former Prime Minster Silvio Berlusconi, has two fewer seats in the body and decided to abstain from voting on the issue. The final tally, according to members of the center-right opposition, fell one vote shy of a legal vote. The ruling coalition dismissed that charge and called the vote valid.
Asked for reaction, a public affairs officer from the U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. missions in the Middle East, said the approval of funds was welcome.
“The contributions of all our coalition partners cannot be overstated,” said Capt. Matthew Hasson. “We are deeply appreciative for their contributions and sacrifices in fighting terror and promoting democracy throughout the Middle East.”
Senators were set to vote on the entire package of funding for Italian overseas missions Friday, and there were signs that members of both the right and left of the political spectrum weren’t happy.
A group of 16 senators in Prodi’s coalition repeated their opposition to the country’s continued mission in Afghanistan.
“We will vote today on the confidence vote for the government,” Gigi Malabarba was quoted as saying in an online report from Agenzia Giornalistica Italia. “But we would like to reiterate our ‘no’ to the Italian military mission in Afghanistan, which we have always been against.”
With only a relatively small group of senators voting against the measure, it was likely to pass anyway, because Berlusconi and his allies had signaled their support of the measure. Berlusconi was prime minister when the Italian troops were sent to the country.
But, according to various media reports, the left-center coalition wanted to show it could pass the measure without any support from their opponents. So it resorted to a vote of confidence. If the vote had failed, the government would have effectively been toppled and new elections could be called.
The opposition, which had said that the measure wouldn’t pass without its support, decided to abstain. Some members of the Northern League, at the far right of the political spectrum, held up a sign calling Prodi a dictator. According to another report on the AGI Web site, one Northern League senator, Massimo Polledri, was tackled by security guards anxious to avoid a fight when he approached some ruling coalition senators during debate.
The group of 16 senators on the left said another vote in a few months to extend the mission further would be “unacceptable.”
The country’s Chamber of Deputies had overwhelmingly voted to support the mission last week, with the right joining the left in a 549-4 verdict.
At stake is funding for about 1,800 Italian troops. Most are deployed to the relatively peaceful west of Afghanistan, with another large contingent in the country’s capital of Kabul.