ROMEÂ – An Italian soldier serving in Afghanistan was killed and another was wounded on Wednesday when gunmen opened fire on them, the Defence Ministry said.
The shooting took place some 60 km (40 miles) from the Afghan capital Kabul and the Italian soldiers returned fire, a ministry statement said.
Caretaker Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who has been under pressure from the hard left in his outgoing coalition to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, said Italy was committed to its mission.
However, at least one leftist party said it would not approve new funding for the force when parliament votes on it.
Rome has some 2,200 troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). They are mostly involved in peacekeeping and humanitarian duties.
“It is a mission that we have decided to continue because it has long-term objectives,” Prodi said after he was informed of the killing.
Italy is among several NATO nations that have been hesitant about sending soldiers to the restive southern and eastern areas where Taliban insurgents are most active and clash regularly with foreign troops under NATO and U.S. military command.
More than 330 foreign soldiers have been killed in the past two years, the bloodiest period since U.S.-led troops overthrew the Taliban government in 2001. Twelve Italian soldiers have been killed since 2004.
The United States, which forms the bulk of the foreign force in Afghanistan, has been pushing alliance members to take more responsibility in the war against the Taliban.
“The Afghan war is horrible, our soldiers are regarded as an occupation force and are at risk every day,” said senator Manuela Palermi, who heads a group of Green and communist lawmakers in the upper house.
“One thing is certain: never again will the Italian communists vote new funds for the mission,” she said.
Parliament will start discussing a government decree authorizing the funds next week.
While there is broad cross-party support for the mission, the debate over Italy’s presence in Afghanistan is likely to heat up in the run-up to a national election in April.