By Crispian Balmer
ROME (Reuters) – Italy is considering pulling its troops out of Afghanistan within a year, a senior defence ministry source said on Monday, following reports the United States may cut back its own military presence.
The source told a group of journalists that Defence Minister Elisabetta Trenta had demanded that military command should start initial planning for a full withdrawal of the Italian contingent in Afghanistan.
“The timeframe could be 12 months,” the source said.
Italy has had a military presence in Afghanistan for more than 15 years and, according to the Defence Ministry, is committed at present to having 900 troops there as part of a NATO-led mission.
Since taking office last June, the coalition government has said it was considering cutting its presence in Afghanistan, but news that the defence minister had ordered that plans be drawn up for a full withdrawal surprised some colleagues.
“I have only heard about this today … She hasn’t talked to me about it,” Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi told reporters during a visit to Israel.
Trenta is a member of the 5-Star Movement, which has long questioned the value of Italy’s Afghan mission.
A source in the far-right League, which is 5-Star’s coalition partner, said Italy was committed to bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan.
“No decision has been taken at present, only an assessment by the relevant minister,” the source said.
U.S. officials told Reuters last month that U.S. President Donald Trump had issued verbal orders to plan for a withdrawal of about half of the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. However, they said he could reverse course.
(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)