Italian Troops and Helicopters Committed to Afghanistan

In the Afghan province of Badghis, at Bala Murghab, Italian soldiers of the 183rd Regiment, Nembo Parachute Division, are fighting to break the pressure of the Taliban militia.

At their side, are observers of the 185th Regiment target acquisition, the sappers of the 183rd Regiment paratrooper Corp of Engineers, and Afghan Troops, flanked by a handful of US military advisers. This stage of the conflict is the most bloody, since the beginning of the international intervention in 2002.

In addition, there is an Italian call-up contingent, formed by the Folgore Brigade as reinforcements, which received new equipment recently.

This Brigade is operating with other troops in Herat and surrounding areas. The Brigade has versatile and lethal attack helicopters – Mangusta A-129 (Mongoose) – and is part of the 5th and the 7th Regiments of the Flighting Brigade Friuli. These were very useful in rescue raids, for the Italian and Afghan troops being assaulted by Taliban ambushes. They were also used to neutralize Taliban posts that were attacking the motorized spearhead of the National Afghan Army.

The last shipment from Italy has now been added to the equipment of the Italian forces in the advanced posts of Farah and Bal Murghab, which were attacked in 2008 by the Taliban. Now, the base is fortified with 120 mm Thomson-Brandt mortars, in Bala Murghab and in the Farah province Forward Operating Base. This equipment is the same used in Iraq, and these weapons are able to hit enemy posts in mountains and valleys, providing overwhelming firepower to the patrols on roads and in villages.

Before these weapons arrived, the infantry companies had only small 60 mm mortars. The 120 mm mortars are easily carried on trailers by vehicles such as the Lince. The 120 mm mortars can hit a target up to 13 kilometers away with 11 rounds per minute. This rain of fire can devastate the insurgents, who are not equipped with bulletproof vests or helmets.

The terrific fire killed many Taliban, according to observers of the 185th Regiment target acquisition, an elite group that supports Task Force 45, special Italian forces active in the West of Afghanistan. For the first time, the specialists of this group support the Battle Groups to take possesion of hidden Taliban posts, transmitting their positions to the heavy mortar platoons.

Other support has been provided by “Pointer” remote controlled airplanes, made in the US. These small airplanes have the dimension of a model and are manually launched. They are used to check the perimeter of a base or a road where a motorized column has to travel, helping soldiers prevent ambushes, and keep track of the enemy.

The inexpensive Pointer can stay aloft for 90 minutes. Used by the 41th Regiment “Cordenons”, applied to surveillance of the territory and by Rista-Ew Brigate for reconnaissance, intelligence, Surveillance and target acquisition.

Editor’s note: The Mangusta A-129 is the first attack helicopter to be designed and produced wholly in Western Europe.