The government of Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, forced to resign last month after a defeat on the issue, narrowly won a Senate vote to keep Rome’s 1,900 troops in Afghanistan March 27. But questions remain over the mission’s future, as NATO allies criticize Italy’s handling of a recent hostage crisis, in which Rome engineered a prisoner-swap to secure the release of Daniele Mastrogiacomo, a well-known Italian journalist held 15 days by the Taliban. The United States, Germany, Britain, and the Netherlands have all denounced the deal, under which five jailed Taliban figures—indlucing three considered high-level—were freed in exchange for Mastrogiacomo. “There was a clear sense in the room that none of us should agree to negotiate the release of hostages in return for terrorists,” US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said after a NATO meeting in Brussels.
Afghans are also angry that the deal failed to secure the release of Mastrogiacomo’s Afghan interpreter, while his driver was beheaded by the Taliban. The incident sparked anti-government protests in Helmand Province, where the kidnapping occurred. “In exchange for Afghans, they have released the foreigner,” one demonstrator told RFE/RL’s Afghan Service. “What kind of government is this? This is not a government. It is merely a symbolic one.” (RFE/RL, March 28)
Meanwhile, militants in Kandahar are demanding the release of Taliban prisoners in exchange for four Afghan health workers and a driver abducted while driving back from a refugee camp March 26. (Canadian Press, March 29)
Violence continues in the region. Two police were killed in Kandahar province March 28 when a group of Taliban fighters attacked their checkpoint. (Press TV, Iran, March 29) US-led forces claim 13 Taliban fighters were killed Marchg 28 in a series of clashes, including a Taliban attack on a military compound in Uruzgan. (Press TV, March 29)
In Kabul March 28, a suicide bomber blew himself up near the vehicle of an Afghan intelligence official in crowded market, killing four civilians. The official was unharmed. (PakTribune, March 29)