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Debate Over Italian Troop Withdrawal from Afghanistan Heats Up

By Sabina Castelfranco
18 September 2009

The killing of six Italian soldiers in Afghanistan has re-ignited the debate over whether troops should be withdrawn from the country. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has assured the nation that a reduction of the troops deployed in the war-ravaged country has already been planned.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi says Italy is looking to discuss a "transition strategy" in Afghanistan to transfer security duties to Afghan forces and allow foreign troops to progressively pull out. He was speaking a day after Italy suffered its deadliest attack to date in Afghanistan.

Six Italian soldiers were killed in Kabul on Thursday when a suicide bomber ran his explosive laden car into two military vehicles. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Despite the debate over troop withdrawal, Mr. Berlusconi says Italy remains committed to defending democracy in Afghanistan.

He said, "We are all convinced it's best for everybody to get out soon" adding that Italian troops had been increased in Afghanistan for the recent elections.

He says Italy already had plans to bring home some 400 to 500 troops. He also said, however, that further withdrawal of any of Italy's remaining 2,800 soldiers is not a decision that Italy can take on its own but needs to be taken with the other countries involved in the mission.

A recent poll showed 58 percent of Italians want troops out of Afghanistan; 40 percent believe the mission has become "a war operation". Analysts say those figures are expected to significantly rise following the latest deaths.

Italian authorities say the bodies of the dead soldiers will return to Italy on Sunday morning. Autopsies will be carried out and the following day state funerals will be held. Monday has been declared a national day of mourning. A minute of silence will be observed in schools and public offices.

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