Wednesday, July 1, 2015


Practically only a few books have been written about the Italian tentative to influence & control Afghanistan during WW2. However recently has been published an interesting book on the topic, titled "The Secret War for the Middle East: The Influence of Axis and Allied Intelligence Operations During World War II" and written by Youssef Aboul-Enein.

Indeed Afghanistan remained an option for Italian Foreign policy since the exile in Rome of Amanullah, the king of Afganistan deposed in 1929. He would receive an unofficial subsidy from the Italian government to support his family and himself in the capital of Italy. Monzali wrote an interesting book about Amanullah in Rome and his relationship with Mussolini ( )

CV 35 light tank in a museum. These Italian tanks were the first of the Afghan Army

However, mainly after 1936 and even after going to war against Great Britain, Italy hesitated to "play totally the card of Afghanistan", even because Hitler was opposed for ideological reasons to proclaim the independence of India and the Arab countries subjected to British rule. Therefore, when Mussolini in 1938 (but mainly in 1940) began to think that he could at least encourage the independence of India and Afganistan, Italy was now totally dependent and dominated by the directives of Berlin and did not dare to differentiate itself from the positions of nazi Germany.

Indeed in late 1938 Amanullah did the last tentative to regain his throne in Kabul with an insurrection of tribes loyal to him, but he was defeated by the new king Mohammed Zahir and since then the Italians opted to allow the Germans to rule the tentative to control Afghanistan. By the end of the 1930s, important agreements on foreign assistance and trade had been reached with Italy (and mainly Germany) by the Afghanistan king Mohammed Zahir Shah (Dupree, Louis: Afghanistan, pages 477–478. Princeton University Press, 1980). In those years the Afghan armed forces struggled to grow and gradually modernize: Italy agreed to further equip and train the Afghan air force. 24 Italian airplanes were delivered in 1938 and some dozens of afghan pilots were trained in Italy. Even some Italian light tanks (CV 35) were sold to Kabul in order to create the first tank units of the Afghan Army.

At the time of the surrender of France in 1940, Abdul Majid -- the Minister of National Economy who might have been acting in this case without knowledge of his government -- indicated that Afghanistan was ready to begin actively supporting the "Axis" cause, including incitement of the frontier tribes to take up arms against British India, thus tying down Allied combat forces.

Italian diplomats supported some German military raids from Afghanistan into northern India during 1940: those guerrilla attacks were done by agents operating under cover of business and research activity. The damaging raids against British India were supported by Afghanistan tribes loyal to the former king Amanullah (who was living in Rome and was a complete pro-Axis Afghan).

All the Italian tentative finished after the anglo-iraqi war of 1941. Indeed on 27 May 1941, 12 Italian Fiat CR.42 & 3 Savoia-Marchetti of the 155a ''Squadriglia'' (renamed ''Squadriglia speciale Irak'' under captain Francesco Sforza) of the Royal Italian Air Force (Regia Aeronautica Italiana) arrived at Mosul in northern Iraq. By 29 May, Italian aircraft were reported in the skies over Baghdad. It was even reported that on 29 May near Khan Nuqta (frontier Iraq-Iran) the Italians intercepted a flight of Hawker Hart Audaxes escorted by Gloster Gladiators of the No. 94 British Squadron. In the resulting combat, two Gladiators were lost while one CR.42 was shot down by Wing Commander Wightman. This was the final aerial battle of the Anglo-Iraqi War.

As a consequence of this war, all the Italians (and Germans) living in Afghanistan were ordered to exit the country: a joint Anglo-Soviet demand was issued in October 1941 for the expulsion of all Axis nationals. Although due to Afghanistan's officially neutral status small diplomatic staffs were permitted to remain, by the end of the month 206 Italians and Germans had departed for neutral Turkey via Peshawar, Karachi, Basra, and Baghdad under guarantee of free passage. Some additional Italian and German diplomatic personnel were expelled in September 1943.

Here it is a brief book review:

BOOK REVIEW (by Charles C. Kolb)

The pre-World War II British and French domination of the Middle East and North Africa was tailor-made for exploitation by Axis intelligence and propaganda. German and Italian support for the political dogma of Arab Nationalism would contribute to the evolution of Arab socialism, Nasserism, Ba’athism, and components of militant Islamic ideology (p. xiii).

Frequently overlooked in studies of World War II, the Middle East was, in reality, a major theater for the Allies. Though the threat of direct Axis invasion by the “Desert Fox,” Field Marshal Irwin Rommel’s Afrika Corps never materialized beyond the Egyptian Western Desert. This did not deter the Axis from probing the Middle East and cultivating potential collaborators and sympathizers.

This volume sheds light on the historical parallels and reviews the “forgotten” Axis and Allied intelligence and propaganda beginning prior to World War II and its impact on the post-war world. The book also has 626 scholarly endnotes; a “Selected Bibliography” which includes three archival sources, 20 primary works (books), 158 secondary works (books), 37 articles, four theses and dissertations, and eight Internet sources; and a highly detailed 12-page “Index” conflates topics and proper nouns.

In the first introductory chapter, the authors outline the years leading up to World War II, when Hitler expressed little interests in the Arabs, mainly because the 1936 Hitler-Mussolini Axis agreement left Arab questions in the Italian “sphere of influence.” The authors document how European competition – British, French, Italian, and German – from WWI to WWII shaped the region, as Axis and Allies competed with one another for popular support in the Middle Eastern nations. Some young Arabs saw pro-Axis sympathies as a means to gain independence and nationhood from British and French control. Hence, Axis intelligence efforts fueled anti-British resentments and helped shape the course of Arab nationalist sentiment throughout the Middle East. These actions would leave an indelible mark on the sociopolitical evolution of the modern states of the Middle East. Their effects continue to be felt today.

The primary topics in the lengthy second chapter, “The Palestine Question,” include the Sykes-Picot Agreement, misplaced Arab Nationalism of the 1930s, the rise of Zionism, Italian policies, British political dilemmas, the Arab Revolt of 1936, the Nazi collaborating Grand Mufti, Muslim members of the in the Waffen SS, the Nazi Fifth Column, and the development of Arab Nationalist theory. The authors begin the third chapter, “Hashemite Iraq,” with Ottoman political and military administration since the 1870s, a review the British Mandate, the rise of King Feisal I, the 1920 Revolt, and the 1922 Karbala Conference. From 1921-32, 130 uprisings and revolts were suppressed by Iraqis and the British, but Nazis developed a German-Iraqi arms agreement by 1937, so that the British needed to intervene in 1941 because of enhanced Iraqi-Nazi connections and Arab volunteers in the German Armed Forces. Battles between British and Iraqi forces and Operation Sabine, conflicts between Arab leaders, Nazi miscalculations, and Arabs in Nazi concentration camps are also documented. There is a rather brief chapter on “Vichy French Syria: Operation Exporter,” in which the authors focus on the political situation in the 1920s, Axis manipulation of Syrian governments in the 1940s, and de Gaulle’s plan for the Levant which involved cooperation between Australian, Indian, Free French and Palmach (Israeli) units. Chapter 5, “Iran: Operation Countenance,” commences with a discussion of British and Soviet involvement in Iran since the 1800s, Iranian “neutrality” and political control by the Pahlavi (1925-77), and Allied military assistance to counter Nazi military aid. The very brief sixth chapter, “Turkey: Balancing Neutrality,” commences with the Turkish view of the Treaty of Versailles, mistrust of the Italians, Turkish “neutrality,” and problems with Vichy-controlled Syria. Especially noteworthy is the ability of Turkey to simultaneously maintain a mutual assistance pact with the British and a nonaggression pact with the Nazis. In Chapter 7, “Axis Efforts in the Arabian Peninsula,” the authors provide an account of the radical political changes in the Arabian Peninsula by the end of World War I, the Anglo-Ottoman Convention of 1913, ultimate Saudi dissatisfaction with the quality and quantity of British Arms received in the 1930s, entreaties to the Nazi’s and success in obtaining for military aid, and Japanese collaboration and trade contact with the Muslim world. There are only a few discussions about Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and Yemen. Receiving notable attention is the British Royal Air Force airbase established in Aden in 1917, the Italian Royal Navy’s Red Sea Flotilla established in Eritrea in 1940, the battles between British and Italian ships in the Gulf of Aden (23 June 1940), German U-boat activities, and Italian air raids on Haifa and Manama.

Chapter 8, “Afghanistan and the Third Reich: Fomenting Rebellions,” (is related to Italy's influences in Afghanistan and) briefly focuses on the reign of Mohammed Zahir Shah (ruled 1933-1973) during World War II. The content of the chapter is based on two journal articles by Milan Hauner (1981 and 1982), which relied heavily on German World War II archival sources. The Aboul-Enein brothers observed common themes (tribes, geography, and personalities) in Afghanistan-Pakistan in pre- and post-World War II and the current problems encountered in this region today. “Egypt’s Internal Struggle: To Declare War or Not?” begins with the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, an analysis of the Ali Maher Pasha government, and Egyptian military policy during World War II. The transition from King Fuad I to Farouk I, Italian vs. British and Allied military strength in North Africa in 1940, German and Italian intelligence sources, the compromise of the U.S. Black Code, Egyptian War Minister’s insights, anti-British Egyptian leaders, and Egypt’s financial contributions to Britain during the war are documented. The conclusion provides a review of major points from the previous chapters, and opinions by other scholars. The authors also comment on their recent analysis of captured al-Qaida intelligence and counterintelligence manuals, and conclude with lessons to be learned: “… before undertaking war, it is vital to know the region, the area of operation, your nation’s place in it, and previous armies that have fought in the area. Get inside the history of the region; walk around between perception, conspiracy, and fact to gain a true understanding of those fighting alongside you, and against you.” (p. 190).


The book can be read on google books: