Afghanistan blast kills six Italian troops

President Hamid Karzai defended Afghanistan’s disputed presidential election yesterday after preliminary results showed he won, and a suicide bomb attack on Italian troops tested the resolve of a major NATO ally.
Sixteen people, including six Italian soldiers, died in the attack on an Italian military convoy within walking distance of the presidential palace in the capital Kabul, minutes after Karzai held a news conference there, Reuters reports.
It was his first meeting with reporters since the August 20 election and he praised Afghans for braving violence to vote.
The strike, the deadliest on Italian forces in Afghanistan, caused shock back home as European leaders scramble to bolster flagging support for the eight-year-old war.
The United States and its NATO allies have more than 100 000 troops in Afghanistan to bolster the government in its fight against Taliban insurgents and prevent the country being used as a base for militant attacks abroad.
The disputed election has further eroded public backing among NATO allies for the war effort, at a time when US President Barack Obama is considering whether to send more troops and European allies are debating whether to quit.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Italy planned a “strong reduction” in its 3100 troops in the wake of the election, but would not unilaterally withdraw.
“We are all anxious and hopeful to bring our boys home as soon as possible,” Berlusconi told reporters on arrival in Brussels, where he was due to attend an EU summit.
Italy’s contingent had been increased by 500 ahead of the Afghan elections and these troops could be brought home “in the coming days or weeks,” in consultation with Italy’s allies.
Attack in Kabul
Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for the suicide strike in Kabul in a text message sent from a phone number used by a Taliban spokesperson.
At the scene, Afghan troops ferried wounded civilians to ambulances near several wrecked Italian military vehicles.
The body of at least one dead Italian soldier lay in the street in front of an armoured truck that bore an Italian flag. Other body parts were scattered near the scene. The chassis of an exploded car landed dozens of meters away.
Most of Italy’s conservative government and the main centre-left opposition broadly support the Afghan mission. Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said pulling out Italian troops “would mean surrendering to the logic of terrorism.”
The far left restated a demand for an immediate withdrawal.
Record military and civilian deaths and uncertainty over the election result have raised questions among Washington’s allies, particularly Britain and Germany, about how long their troops should remain or if they should be there at all.
Obama may also find it hard to persuade Americans to send more troops to defend a government whose legitimacy could be called into question due to large scale fraud.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates told reporters in Washington that any decision to deploy additional US troops should not be rushed, adding that “the nature of the election in Afghanistan has complicated the picture for us.”
US Vice President Joe Biden, visiting Iraq, also said it was too early to talk about additional troops.
The British army’s new commander, General David Richards, said Western forces had to find the right tactics to defeat the Taliban as they had in Iraq, which was about to implode 18 months ago.
“The ingredients for success in Afghanistan are similar, but we have not yet confirmed the correct formula for that country,” he said in a speech at the Chatham House think-tank.